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QATAR SOLO! How the Eclipse Changed My Life. (Week 13)

This is it ladies and gentlemen, the final ‘Qatar Solo’. My time in Doha draws to a close this very evening (or at 2am tomorrow morning, depending on how you want to spin it…) and for this grand finale entry, we’re going to explore just what brought me to embark on this amazing experience.

I’m not the type of person who was big on ‘bucket lists’. Taking most of my queue’s from my Dudeist faith, I was happy allow life to simply bring me the events it warranted as fate saw fit. (Translation: I was kind of lazy) I kinda figured that if I didn’t make a big deal out of making sure a whole bunch of things got done, I would never be disappointed if I never followed through on them*.

*This is not an ideal way to live, I’ve discovered.

dude with russian
“Yeah well, that’s just like… your opinion, man.”

But on my rather dismal bucket list was one ‘easily achievable’ objective (relatively speaking). I wanted to witness, in person, a total solar eclipse. Being a big ‘space’ kid my whole life the concept of such a simple yet awe inspiring event fascinated me. I was interested in astronomy from a young age, and if I were to drive a Delorean back in time and bring a copy of the new ‘Cosmos’ with me (I supposed I’d have to bring a Blu-ray player too for this plan to work… dammit, already I’ve over complicated things) I would change the course of my young life to send on path to being an astronomer. In fact the only thing that ever really discouraged me from being an astronomer in the first place was math. Stupid, stupid math.

math
You said it, offensive meme guy.

Being a ‘Trek fan from the start, science and space-stuff always intrigued me. I absorbed everything I could from NOVA on PBS, and I read my parents copy of National Geographic’s ‘Our Universe’ cover to cover many times.

our universe
This book essentially represents my childhood.

Space was always a big deal. Yet as time went on I found myself much more interested in telling stories that happened IN space, rather than wanting to unravel its mysteries myself. Telling stories about space required considerably less math than actually researching in (to say nothing about going there. Maybe it was being young and formative when the space shuttle Challenger disaster struck, but I was never the ‘I want to be an astronaut’ type. What I really wanted to be was Han Solo, but I digress…)

han solo
Who didn’t though, right?

So yeah, space and stuff. Being able to witness a solar eclipse first hand was a big deal to me, and when the opportunity to travel a few hours from my home to be in the path of totality came around this August, I jumped on it. You could tell I was serious about it because I seriously booked our motel almost a year in advance. Ask Marisa how often I actually book/plan things and you’ll realize this was a big deal.

So that weekend we packed up the car, said goodbye to Thom and smuggled Lenny across the border in Ol’ Gill. We drove down to Portland with the intent of hanging around for the weekend, absorbing some culture, buying some T-shirts and drinking from some breweries. As G Dub once said in a giant banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier: “Mission Accomplished!”

mission accomplished
Did I EVER think I’d be able to actually reference this? Mission Accomplish… oh wait…

From there we would take another drive about an 90 minutes further south to the true path of totality and witness the incredible sight.

Now there was one hiccup in our plan, and that was my total boneheadedness in NOT getting eclipse glasses before we left. Long story short – I didn’t bother to look for them until just before we left, and sure enough, sold out all over Vancouver.

Also sold out all over every rest stop we hit on the way down to Portland. You’d think people really wanted them or something! Marisa was not impressed with my half-assed plan to watch through a pin-hole rig (to be fair, it was a pretty half-assed plan I will admit) so she was not super happy with me. All the way to United States of Trump and we wouldn’t even be able to look directly at the sun as Fenrir swallowed it for the end-times? Bullshit!

table flip

I knew the August issue of the  magazine ‘Astronomy’ came with a set of approved eclipse glasses, so the plan changed to finding a copy of that magazine. Also: nearly impossible. But this is where the first tale of meaning in this story emerges. I wasn’t going to give up until I found this magazine SOMEWHERE. No chance every copy in Portland was sold out, right? So I persisted, I kept at it. And after asking every person at every grocery store we stopped at, I located a Co-op in Portland that had TWO copies of the magazine left. Sure enough $22 US later Marisa and I both had our own guides to the eclipse and a set of glasses each.

The lesson here was not only that I didn’t give up, but that I had a goal set in my head, and I pursued it until I achieved it. I’m not saying I bent the universe to generate two copies of a magazine at a random grocery store, I’m saying I MIGHT’VE bent the universe to generate two magazines at a random grocery store. (Lenny slept through the ultimate eclipse so her puppy glasses were a big waste of time)

“So where’s the interesting part of the story?” you ask. We’re nearly 1K words  in and you haven’t even started to make sense.

But I will…

portland
Portlandia…

Our first night in Portland I received an email from a working director I had met almost exactly a year before. I pitched him ‘Tucker’ and he told me it was the best pitch he’d ever heard, bought me a beer for it. A great guy, truly. We stayed in touch over the year but only intermittently – turns out he spent most of that year working in the deserts of Qatar on a TV show.

He emailed me because the showrunner on that very program was looking for writers to join the room for the show’s second season, and for some bizarre reason he thought of me. He asked if I had anything Sci-Fi I could read, and I said I did.

You see, I brought my laptop with me on that trip. Normally I don’t do that, but I had been in such a writing habit for the past several months that I thought it couldn’t hurt to have it along in case there was any chance for me to keep up the routine. So glad I did because I think I spent about 8 hours over two days in our hotel room in Portland making sure that the Sci-Fi script I had written for JUST SUCH AN OCCURRENCE was ready to be viewed by people.

1171199_1768102116746447_651660328_n
Credit to the amazing Lucas Green!

I sent the director ‘BRIDGEHEAD’, and hoped that it would be what he was looking for.

So the morning of the 21st arrives, we leave extra early to get stuck in serious eclipse traffic, take the most convenient ‘off’ ramp we can into an outdoor mall complex about twenty minutes outside of Salem, Oregon, and we wait.

Actually WATCHING a solar eclipse as it’s happening is both anti-climatic and amazing all at once. Anti-climatic because the sun is still essentially the sun until the last few moments. Watching through eclipse glasses you can see the cookie-bite the moon takes out of the sun grow bigger and bigger, but without the glasses the blazing day-star is still putting out the same incredible luminescence as it ever does, at least as far as our primitive ape-eyes can tell.

But then things actually start to get DARK. And cold. And suddenly there is no sun. Just a brilliant DONUT OF FIRE in the sky. For an instant you know exactly why ancient people’s thought the world was coming to an end when this happened because it is so UNLIKE any other occurrence one encounters in a typical day, year, life.

trees eclipse
Hard to describe, and no matter what photos don’t do it justice.

And then it’s over. The reality is totality occurs for typically less than 2 minutes wherever you are, so before a song is even done the day-star comes roaring back, and it’s a fight to get onto the highway again home.

So there we are, crawling along at 20 km/h (SLOW for the American’s reading this) when I get a call on my phone. It is the lovely director, telling me he’s passed my recommendation on to the producers of a show called ‘MEDINAH’ and in all reality they’ll be contacting me with an offer to write on the shows second season.

That’s the job I just finished out here.

Why does any of this mean anything? How did the eclipse change my life, exactly? I mean it’s totally plausible that I would’ve got the call from the director had we not driven down to Trump’s America and just stayed home.

eclipse traffic
Best place to ever be offered a writing job.

But there’s so much more at play here than just that call. In the past year I’ve learned a great deal about making things happened for yourself. I’ve been writing almost constantly for the last two years, feeling like I was forever spinning my wheels, not gaining any traction. I never stopped though. Through the rejections, the passes and the plain old ‘getting ignored’ I kept writing. More than that, I kept letting people know I was writing. I held readings for my work, I kept at it even though it seemed like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

In fact I’m pretty sure it was my most recent reading of ‘Diesel Wars’ that provoked the attention of this director. We follow the same people on Twitter, and one of my friends who came to read, the lovely and talented Rhona Rees tweeted about my reading, and I feel that the director who recommended me picked up on that tweet, remembered me and my awesome pitch, and decided he’d contact me to see if I was interested.

bev turtle
Everyone seriously needs to check out Rhona as the voice of the absolutely adorable tortoise Bev in the ‘Littlest Petshop’ shorts.

What I’m saying is I was definitely ‘lucky’ that I decided to bring my laptop on the trip with me, and I was definitely ‘lucky’ that a director remembered me when the time was right, but I had a hand in MAKING that luck happen. I wasn’t quiet or silent in my ambitions and dreams. Just like the eclipse, I wanted to go and do something, be a real paid screenwriter, and I went after it. Even during all those long years I wasn’t being paid to do what I wanted, I kept shooting for that target. I persisted, believing nothing more than the fact that I knew what I wanted to do with myself, and there was no way I’d be stopped by reality. I wasn’t sure I’d make it, not at all. What I was sure of was that there was one thing in the world I wanted to do, and I was going to do it, no matter what. Sure, being PAID to do it would be nice, but just because it didn’t seem like that wasn’t happening wasn’t enough reason for me to stop.

And sooner or later, come hell, high-water or a planetary alignment, something happened. If I hadn’t been writing all of that time, if I hadn’t continued to show my work to people, if I hadn’t continued to seek it all out no matter what, it wouldn’tve come together.

Just like the careful alignment of sun, Earth and moon required to give us an eclipse, and the stunningly bizarre astronomical coincidence that in this age our moon is the exact same annual size in the sky as the sun, everything came together because I was in the right place for it to come together. But I wasn’t there by chance. I was there because I had made choices that brought me there. I was there because I had fostered an environment where luck could find me. You can’t force luck to happen, but it seems like you sure can do everything you can to set up the conditions just right for luck to take hold.

eclipse plane

I am incredibly fortunate to be in the position I was to follow my dream. I don’t doubt that for a minute. But I was there because I put myself there. Waiting for luck to find me failed me for years. Somewhere along the line I decided I would make it easier for luck to find me, by waving my hands, jumping up and down, screaming ‘Here I am!!’ and doing all the work required to be ready to grab the chance if it ever came along.

I’m starting to think that’s the key. If you want something, really want something, go after it. It’ll never find you if it can’t see you, and if you’re not screaming and going after what you want tooth and nail, how is anyone, especially luck, supposed to know where you are?

Vancouver, I’m coming home. And I’m ready.

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QATAR SOLO! The 5 ‘Do’s & 10 ‘Don’ts of Script Notes… (Week 12)

Oh hello! I didn’t see you there, readers of this blog…

oh hello
Isn’t this how we all dress when ready a hardcover?

I’m here to actually TALK about something screenwriting related this week! Huzzah! Go figure. And that something is Script Notes.

I’m not talking the “I just wrote a screenplay and I want notes from my friends/co-workers/family/anyone who put it in front of their eyeballs” kind of Notes…

What I’m talking about here is primarily my experience in giving and receiving notes in a professional environment – specifically as a staff writer on a TV show. It’s only an utter coincidence that this is just so happens to be the professional environment I find myself in while I write this post. Oh serendipity…

serenity
It was really embarrassing the first time I got that movie’s title wrong…

Now I haven’t had much experience with ‘Executives’ and the absurd kinds of Notes that supposedly come from them. This isn’t a blog about the ridiculous “But could your Space Whale fight a copy of the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer auto-racing tour de force ‘Days of Thunder’ at the end of the film, instead of Dave Bautista? He’s doing Guardians Vol. 3 and we can’t secure him for shooting” kind of Notes. This is about the kind of feedback you get on the script you’re paid to write on someone elses show, where your job is dependent entirely on your ability to deliver what the show runner wants and is asking for.

This list is by no means exhaustive or hard & fast. It has not been approved by any screenwriting body, nor has it met the standards to qualify as a medical treatment (so all you anti-vaxxers can rest assured that this list WILL prevent your children from contracting the autism-polio in place of REAL medicine. We know the truth, don’t we? /WINK)

So without any further padding of my word count, here are the 5 Do’s and 10 Don’ts of giving and receiving Script Notes:

morpheus
Always listen to a man who can hold up sunglasses with the power of a squint.

DO – Take Every Note Seriously

Unlike the mythical Executive who doesn’t feel satisfied unless their desire for the blood of virgins is sated through ritual sacrifice, your Head Writer and Showrunner aren’t giving you notes just to make themselves feel good. They’re giving you notes to push the envelope of what you’ve given them, to correct a perceived misstep or to make a change that they know is going to be needed. This is elementary stuff, so it might seem dumb to spell it out, but you’d be surprised how often folks don’t take these things seriously. “In the case of our Space-Chicken, can we make him Extra Crispy? Will that fly?” (…too… many… puns…)

space chicken
Pictured: Original recipe Space-Chicken

It might seem dumb, you may not agree, but it’s not your job to agree. It’s your job to deliver what the Head Writer/Showrunner need, and if they’re giving you a note, it’s because something in the script isn’t sitting the way it needs to.

  • DON’T: Push back needlessly. It’s your job to write. If they’re asking you to try something else, do it. If they want a damned extra crispy Space-Chicken, give them an extra crispy Space-Chicken. If it’s terrible and they don’t like it, let them cut it. It’s not your call, otherwise it would be your show. Remember that “Yes I can/Yes, and…” are the most powerful, future job generating phrases in the business. “No, because…” is not something the people above you want to hear in a creative environment.
  • DON’T: Ignore a note if you don’t like it. If the Powers That Be (above) see you’ve moved on without actioning the note in any way they’ll think either you’re A) Not reading what they’re giving you, and thus a waste of their time or B) that you don’t think they’re input is worthwhile, which is an absolute death knell if you want to keep finding work as a screenwriter. IF there is a solid, valid reason that the note is off base, you need to approach it directly and respectfully. “I feel that making the Space-Chicken extra crispy severely undermines his integrity as a symbol to the mainstream. Many more people prefer original recipe over extra crispy and we risk diminishing our exposure to the heartland if we make him extra crispy. Of course, if you feel it’s the route we should take, extra crispy it is.”
friend chicken
Consider your white-bread, middle class arteries warned.
  • FOR GOD’S SAKES DON’T:  Respond with informal slang and dismissal. “Nah homie, story don’t play that way.” May sound hilarious, but it is the HEIGHT of disrespect to the person giving you the note. There is no clearer way to say “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about” than responding this way. If you have no interest in ever being employed by this person again, fine, go for it. But remember: Everyone in the business talks, and most jobs come from word of mouth…

DO – READ THE NOTE BEHIND THE NOTE

Not every note is a directive to do a specific thing. “Great! Love it! Can we punch this up? Make it, you know ‘good’?” Is a note I’ve seen several times in this job. What’s being said here isn’t that what’ve you’ve done isn’t good (we writer’s need so much validation) What’s being said is that “You’re halfway there.” A request to be punched up is simply being asked to challenge yourself to come back for another pass and up the ante, the stakes. Set that plane on fire, make that newborn baby a serial killer, pee into the wind!

plane on fire
Chose a stock image ‘cuz some of the real ones are pretty horrifying…

This is the ‘Note Behind the Note’, because (big secret) sometimes the Head Writer/Showrunner don’t know exactly what they want. All they can tell is they want ‘something’ to change and improve, so they rely on ‘punch it up’ to convey their general sense of dissatisfaction. It becomes an important skill to recognize what’s being said without taking everything literally. (Unless the note is “No, seriously, Extra Crispy Space-Chicken, no question”.) Since most all of writing is re-writing, this shouldn’t be a problem. No one knocks it out of the park on the first try (not even you, Doug)

slippery otter
There was no appropriate picture, so I just chose a ‘Clone High’ screen grab I’ve always liked.

They might tell you to “Try making the racecar an octopus” or “What if the fire breather guy was a vegetarian?” They don’t know what the hell they want, they’re in entertainment after all. It’s not your job to read minds, but it IS your job to think on your feet.

So instead of making the racecar an octopus, you have the brilliant idea of setting the final, epic rally car race in the city of Atlantis. Instead of making the fire breather a vegetarian you force him to team up with a play’s-by-his-own-rules, jive-talking vegan Liger for the big assault on precinct √13. If the Powers That Be are asking for a change but aren’t exactly set on what that change is, it’s up to you to be as creative as you can in solving the problem.

liger
Dibs on new show concept: Rizzoli & Liger – Vegan Attack!
  • DON’T : Get Exasperated. You know, just throw whatever together, cut & paste and Ctrl-F search your way through a solution. “Okay, replacing all ‘racecar’s with ‘octopus’.” If you’re being paid as a screenwriter, it’s because you’re creative. The Powers That Be want you to use that creativity to solve a problem for them. That’s why you’re there. If it was a simple cut & paste job they could do it, and then they wouldn’t need you. This is the very nature of understanding the ‘Note behind the note’. It might seem a little counter-intuitive in some places, but if you’re good at what you do, your solution will be better than whatever their note was.
  • DON’T: Be literal about things either. If they’re asking you to add more beats to a sequence, don’t throw in a few ‘BEAT’s or cut away and add in a few more ‘CUT TO’s & ‘EXT/INT’s. They asking you to adjust the flow so that more plotlines can run concurrently, or to add to or diminish tension. READ what you’ve written, what’s prompted the note, and use your creative brain power to find a solution.
brain power
Lookit that form!

DO – BE READY TO GET IT WRONG

Because genius, this WILL happen. You will read a note about Space Whales being out, so you try out your latest thing; Moon Rhino’s, and it will be a giant disaster. Just like taking notes is about listening to what’s being said, responding to them with solutions is about being flexible. Writing is re-writing after all. We said that above and we will say it again over and over and over because – you guessed it, we’re re-writing it! HA! (So terrible… I dare call myself a writer…) So many aspects of this job are about being resilient, and taking a note, implementing it and then hearing “Nah, that’s not what I wanted. Space-Penguins? Can we do that?” can crush the dreams of your own Moon Rhino space-opera if you let it.

moon rhino
Definitely as confused as you are. Thanks Google Image Search!

DO – ASK FOR HELP

One of the whole points of having a Writer’s Room is that there are MULTIPLE people there, multiple avenues to explore and utilize. If you get a note that you don’t understand or don’t know what to do with, ASK around. Find out from the other writer’s what they think. Guaranteed someone is going to have a difference perspective than you. Hell, if they’re available (and in a good, supportive, thus successful situation, they should be…) reach out to the Head Writer/Showrunner/Producer who gave you the note and pick their brain. As long as you aren’t asking them to solve the problem for you, this is a surefire way to reach the most effective solution quickly. Talking story issues out is one of the best ways to resolve them – and notes usually come written off the top of someone’s head as they read, so they aren’t actively engaging in a solution, they just know something needs to change.

You may try a dozen different iterations of a fix before one sticks. Don’t let this discourage you – it’s exactly what the job is. The joy of finding a solution is infinitely better than doing a half-assed job.

cookie monster
No real relevance, I just thought this was darkly hilarious.

 

  • DON’T: Do a half-assed job. So the Head Writer hated your idea for a Moon Rhino episode. The worst solution to this issue is to simply say “Fine, no more Moon Rhino’s, and type in the easy out. It’s Good Enough.” “It’s Good Enough” is like saying “I don’t care.” and is another way to lose the respect of those around you. There are literally tens of thousands of people vying to be where you are, a staff writer on a TV show, and if you’re resorting to ‘Good Enough’ to get past a little butt-hurt about your solution not being great the first time, one of that horde of ten thousand will quickly take your place. In screenwriting, we all know that you can be wrong a million times and only be right once, so says the great philosopher Funky DL (as interpreted by Thomas Prime) but it’s that one time that matters. 
  • DON’T: Close yourself off to solutions. Revising and fixing something that isn’t working is a vital skill to have, and the ability to wield that is an important part of your arsenal/toolbox. LISTEN to those around you and what their suggestions are. Your purpose is to make the best show/changes to a script that you can, and the best solution might come from outside you. Or another show. Or a book that you read. Or a meme that you saw in a Google Image search five minutes ago. This is where flexibility is your best ally. You’re being paid to come up with solutions, not to take things personally.

Which leads us into our last point:

DO – TAKE EVERY NOTE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT

hated it
Dating myself with this one I know…

There has been more than one occasion writing scripts out here where I’ve seen the seemingly callous note ‘Hate it. Let’s change…’ This doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer. It just means you’re generating a visceral reaction from the person who you’re writing for. Many times I have made changes, and when the scripts are passed to the higher ups, all goes well. Every once in a while though, you change something with the ‘Hate It’ sticker next to it, and when it comes back down the pipe from the Powers That Be you read something like “Not digging the Extra Crispy Space-Chicken, can we go back to the Original Recipe Space Chicken with his eleven friends & allies?”

The only authority on a show is the person who green lights the work, and your pay cheque. You work for them, and your purpose is to deliver what they need; scripts that fit the bill of what an episode is supposed to be and do. The Head Writer may have thought that Extra Crispy Space-Chicken was a surefire win, but the Showrunner and/or producers didn’t agree. That’s okay. Nobody is right all the time (except my wife) and even the people who are in charge of creativity can be off base.

the room.gif
Let us never forget that this was a thing.
  • DON’T: Take notes personally. If there’s little Final Draft flags all over your script and it makes you want to die because you think everything you do is wrong, that’s probably not the case. Notes are about the story, not about the person who writes them (HR is for that). A note on a script you turned in isn’t reflective of you, not even necessarily of your ability as a writer. All it reflects is the one paramount issue, the needs of the show. I’ve personally been told that about 7/8ths of what I contribute doesn’t make any sense to the Head Writer, and it doesn’t bother me at all, because they still loved the 1/8th that was left over. So much creativity gets left on the proverbial cutting room floor that what’s left over has to shine (Just ask Terrence Malick)
cutting room floor
“Who am I? What is this place?…”
  • DON’T: Forget your place in all of this. Notes on a show are not about your preference of what you’d like to see. If a note says ‘More Cowbell’ and you absolutely cannot stand Cowbell – you think it is juvenile and vapid and completely below you, add more fucking Cowbell. The needs of the show are bigger than your ego. If it’s not your show, it’s not a judgement call on your part about what should or should not be included. If you read a note and it goes against your taste or preference, but it needs to be implemented, tough shit, you implement it. You don’t argue, you don’t fight. If you hate the material you work on so much, you need to find somewhere else to work. Ones ability to take and apply notes is not a reflection of ones tastes or interests. It’s a reflection of ones ability to do a good job in a complex and demanding atmosphere.
  • DONT: Make multiple people give you the same note. More absolute death. If co-writers have given you a note, the Head Writer has given you the same note, and it STILL makes it all the way to the Showrunner without being changed, who then gives you the SAME note as both sources prior, you’ve really fucked up. In a ‘three strikes you’re out’ kind of way, when other writers see you haven’t taken a note seriously and it needs to be repeated by the Showrunner before you act, you’re essentially giving a middle finger to the people you’re supposed to be working with and supported by. Good luck getting the best out of them when you need it in the future. If you get the same note from two sources, there is 100% a reason for it because it’s being noticed by multiple perspectives. Chances are good if they see it, the Showrunner will too, and if something so obvious as to have been noticed by two other points of contact makes it to the Showrunner without a fix, it doesn’t show steadfast adherence to your integrity on story, it shows a disrespect to your fellow writers and the process. Writer’s rooms exist to solve problems, not to be ignored for the sake of ego.

I’m going to be learning far more lessons than this as I go, but I can tell you picking up on these tips and running with them has been a huge learning curve for me. I can’t tell anyone how to do what they do, but I can pass on what I’ve learned and hope it makes the journey that much easier for someone else when it comes their turn to get their first set of script notes – notes that make them want to cry.

space rhino
One day, the time will be ours, Moon Rhino…

QATAR SOLO! Battling The Breakneck Blitz Burnout – (OR “How I learned to stop worrying and let myself not write for a day.”) Week 11

I suppose I’m going to try and fold the universe back on itself by writing a post about NOT writing. Not even quite sure how that works, but we’re going to give it a try.

Those who have been following this blog regularly (Hi all two of you!) know that I’ve been working like a Japanese honeybee on meth these past three months, essentially non-stop. (Need to raise awareness for those poor honeybees; Karoshi-bees)  First it was hours and hours of outlining in the writer’s room with the colleagues. Then it was scribing my first episode for the show. Then it was filling the time in between episodes with writing my own work, plus weekly blog posts. Now I’m waiting on the go-ahead to start writing my next episode for the show (and a short wait after that until I get to my third) and filling the time in between with MORE writing for people.

That’s a lot of writing for this busy-bee.

not a busy bee
Pictured:  Not a busy-bee.

I’ve been in this mode so long I’ve pretty much got the timing on my favourite Vapourwave mix memorized (It’s actually the best Vapourwave/Futurefunk mix I’ve found on YouTube – I love the sub-genre names we give music… Reminds me of the days of downtempo-fluffy cyber-tech-trance/hop). I don’t function well in silence, and all of my writing is done with music, usually curated to fit the mood of what I’m working on. Most of my features have soundtracks in my iPhone long before anything of them exists on the page.

I’ve been at this a long time is what I’m trying to convey. I’m currently in a re-write/franken-edit of ‘The City’ (itself named after a Madeon title track) that I’m desperately trying to make sure is ‘eyes ready’ by the time my next episode comes up. I’ll be there, no doubt, but as I worked on it yesterday I was overcome with a feeling I’m not accustomed to…

apathy
A jolt of raging ‘Meh’

I’m tired of sitting behind this computer 4+ hours everyday in constant creative mode. Sure, after I finished ‘Titan’ last week I took a full day off (and I mean took the day OFF – I slept until [EDITED to preserve respectability] I watched a bunch of TV, ate junk and made sure to achieve exactly 0) and the day after that I went and saw ‘Justice League’ (‘Tis neither great nor bad – just ‘meh’) but that day ended with a review of our latest written episode, a process itself which requires a read-through and notes from the show-runner. While I wasn’t writing that day, my brain was still very much engaged in the creative process.

Yeah I deserved a little time off, I’d just written a feature in no longer than two weeks, while still putting up blog posts and doing the work I’m actually being paid for. Then I dove right back into what I know I need to be doing here, maximizing my writing time.

eleven
Where would we be without ‘Spinal Tap’?

You see I live in this unique environment right now known only to rich people – I literally have almost no daily responsibilities. I have no dog to walk, no cleaning to be done, no meals to make for anyone but me. I have absolutely NOTHING but time available to me. So of course here I am trying to get as much work done in that time as I can.

Why on Earth would I sit around mainlining ‘LEGION’ when I can use this time to produce, to work? I can sit on my ass at home and justify it by saying “I took the dog to the park today and then swept and then made dinner and… did some other stuff. I earned four episodes of awesome TV.” Yet I can’t exactly do that out here. If I haven’t at least put ten pages down what have I really done with myself?

murder anyone
No I didn’t even get out and murder anyone today. I didn’t know that’s how we measured success in this household!

There’s a mentality among driven, hard-working people, that all of your time wherever possible should be devoted to performing, to making and to doing. That’s a reasonably good mentality most of the time. The trick of it comes when you start to hit a wall, and not like a “It’s 3 o’clock and I could really use some McNuggets” kind of wall. I’m talking about the kind of wall that robs you of your ability to care about doing the next thing, takes away from you any desire to be anything, to achieve anything. We’re going to call that wall Donnie.

donnie
There’s Donnie, standing in the doorway, just waiting to SUCK.

I’m so glad I actually know enough now to be able to cite Donnie as a cultural reference. Donnie does nothing except drag you down and make you wish he wasn’t there (For the first 2 seasons of ‘Orphan Black’ at least – you can tell the writer’s got tired of the ‘Donnie joke’ by season 3 and decided instead to turn him into a somewhat badass) Donnie is that wall where you look at something you love and you go “I just can’t fucking even right now.” We all know how Donnie’s pudgy, helpless demeanor turned Allison into a raging “aggressively helpful” individual, and if you don’t pay attention to the Donnie wall you can become that ragingly “aggressively helpful” creative yourself.

aggressively helpful
Seriously this show deserves a post-cancellation Emmy for sheer quotability.

When today came around, I realized what I needed to do. If I was going to keep loving what I was writing and working on, give it my very best and make it into something great – I needed to NOT do it. For a day. I needed to take a rest from this breakneck working pace I’ve been running at. I needed to chill the fuck out for a day.

And of course I do that by sitting here and writing ANYWAYS – but I didn’t want to lose the entire day. I just needed to separate myself from my creative functioning brain for a little bit. To those hardened, dedicated individuals who see work accomplished as their only measure of success, what I’ve just written is near blasphemy. “I should push through!” these imaginary A-Type overachiever yell in my head, as context for this post. “I need to show up each day, every day and leave my heart on the field!” “I’m just a slacker! Teddy Roosevelt never took a day off”

Or the most motivational of them all:

rich lebowski
He’s talking about a PDF for some reason but you get it.

To stop or to falter is to be weak, so proclaims the ‘true’ big Lebowski. The Bums will always lose! There’s a lot of modern working society in North America that is based around this notion.

It’s bullshit. It’s also dangerous in my opinion. I love what I do. I’ve managed to find a way to make a living (Ha! such dreams…) that doesn’t feel like work to me, and I’m grateful for it. But even I, master of my writing domain, cannot push through forever. Sometimes I’m tired, I’m fed up, and I’m not going to take it anymore!

network
We all need a wall of clocks to act crazy in front of…

Even as I write this now, I’m already excited to get back to work on my next project tomorrow. This is a sense of excitement I didn’t have yesterday, looking at today going “Ugh, I need to write a blog post AND put down/edit more pages.” Not being excited for the work I love frightened me, because as soon as I’m thinking about screenwriting as work and not “The most awesome thing I get paid to do” it looses its charm. I absolutely love screenwriting in (almost, like 99%) all of its capacities, and any time I’m doing something that tarnishes that love, I need to stop and re-evaluate where I’ve put myself.

So today was a day to listen to myself, listen to what some crazy part of my body was trying to tell me, and take it easy.  I’ve been learning a lot about ‘listening to oneself’ and ‘listening to one’s body’, because more often than not, your myriad of human senses, categorized and otherwise, are processing information your conscious mind isn’t aware of. How many times have we all felt that ‘something’ was wrong without ever being able to put our fingers on exactly what it was? We are much smarter critters than we realize, but we’ve been trained not to listen to most things the universe is trying to tell us.

yogi bear
But seriously how smart can he be if he’s wearing a tie with no shirt?

“Whoa whoa whoa!” Let’s not go getting all ‘woo-woo’ here’ I can hear the rational part of you brain saying, dear reader. (That’s right, I can hear the rational part of your brain ticking away. Disturbing no? Doubt me if you must, I can read that too, but always know that this screenwriter is in your thoughts… forever.) I’m not about to go off on a rant about chakra’s and third eyes – I know people who get paid a great deal of money to talk about those things and if you’re actually interested in learning I can direct you to them.

My own experiences in the more ‘spiritual arts’ has been a unique one to me, as everyone who’s known me through life knows me as a rational, scientific, facts based person, and since so many of those things are less ‘facts based’ than people are comfortable with it would seem bizarre that I give them any credence. Yet, oddly enough, I’m starting to. I’m not gonna go into it here (that’s for a future blog post) but I CAN say that my life has changed incredibly (for the better) since I’ve started exploring some of the more esoteric ways of relating and understanding my experiences.

chakras
It takes FOREVER to roll up a character using this system, and I always end up playing a Rogue anyways…

We all need to give ourselves the time we need to be. And we need to be able to do this without carrying guilt about it. I know for a fact I’ve done… a bunch of work this year (see, I can’t even exactly quantify how much I’ve done) and MOST of it has been done while I was out here. I have everything to feel accomplished about and nothing to regret, yet even I fear I’ve under-utilized my time on occasion. Good god why? I basically ‘Misery’d myself, without the need for Kathy Bates or broken ankles.

In this business like many others, work begets work. If you’re working, there will be more coming your way, and if you aren’t working, good luck digging some up. How this cycle gets broken when you can’t find work I’m not sure, but I do know that I’m here now because I kept plugging away at things without being paid until somehow I finally was.

misery
No Kathy, I was NOT looking for that at all. Why gotta go being creepy?

What I’m saying is that: To everyone out there busting your ass, breaking yourself and working all your time into oblivion, take the time to listen to yourself. Some people like P Diddy, or D Money, or Po Daddy or Did Poppy or whatever he is now are the type to run at full burn all day, and catch cat-naps between meetings. If that’s how you operate, great, but that’s a level of work that freaks the hell out of me. I’ve managed to get as far as I am and build a reputation for myself among the screenwriters I’ve met by creating a very effective balance: I go hard, real hard for a duration for a few days, maybe a couple weeks, and then I back off.

Bear in mind I work pretty much everyday, usually for about 4 hours behind the keys. That’s a regular burn in my world. It’s not hard to maintain and I get plenty done. THEN I unplug and chill out and mainline some TV, because in order for me to be able to work consistently, I need to have the time to NOT work. Now sure, I’m also a married man with no children so of course I have time available to me that some others don’t – one of the reasons for that is because I’ve specifically chosen this course for my life. If I want to be able to do what I want to do, to deliver on what I want to achieve in my life, I need to be able to have these moments, this time. It’s as much of a choice I’ve made for myself as deciding to have kids is a choice for (most/some?) in our modern world. There are parents out there who are both drained and energized by their children in equal measure. In there I still encourage people to find the time to unplug themselves in whatever manner they need. Some would argue that the ‘pace’ of the modern world precludes this ‘unplugging’ – but we all make our own worlds, and your life moves at the pace you set.

unikitty
Even CEO UniKitty knows her limits…

What matters most is that you feel satisfied with the time you take, and not guilty. This world wants us all to feel guilty for daring to be Human, since we’re told ‘success’ is dependent on us being super-powered competitors who crush our competition into dust, but the older I get the more I understand that’s just not the way things work, at least not if you want to be happy about who you are and where you are.

I mean, look at me, I couldn’t even be bothered to turn this post into a ‘list’ of any kind. It’s really just me rambling about feeling burned out for 2500 words. I COULD’VE spent a bunch of effort trying to make this more relevant, but for me what mattered more was being able to just put it down and send it out into the world. I’m not making my fortunes blog writing at the moment anyways, so to all of you who’ve made it this far, I say:

zut alors

I don’t even know why…

QATAR SOLO! 4 Easy Questions to Know If You’re A Screenwriter! (Week 10)

Hello friends, creatives, fellow screenwriters and merciless self-flagellators! Today we’re going to explore 4 questions that will answer the ever burning desire among all creatives to finally know “Screenwriter is me?” (Master’s of grammer we are not – that’s for “English Majors” – blechhh. English. Who needs it? Besides pilots, diplomats, actors, scientists, the one minority guy in Indiana Jones movies, engineers, hotel workers, those few phrases in Anime…)

I have learned from my wealth of experience as a screenwriter these past few months,(please read  w/sartalics – are we EVER going to get those?) that being a screenwriter in Hollywood is just as easy as everyone says it is…

brian griffin
I seriously searched hi and low (for 7.5 minutes) to find that line quoted on the internet, then gave up.

But some folks out there dreaming of all the fame, fortune, wealth and power that being a screenwriter is guaranteed to bring may STILL not be sure if the most direct route to total fulfilment is for them, so I threw together these 4 questions off the top of my head today because I was scrambling for something to fill a page with, to help you figure out if it’s TRULY for you. Let’s go to the board!

family feud
It’s kinda crazy how accidentally Hollywood this board is…

1) Do you want a job EVERYONE thinks they know how to do?

In my experience there are only three (ONLY THREE! Any other examples will be immediately rejected! The WRITER has SPOKEN!) jobs in the world where everyone, no matter how inexperienced, thinks they can have a (valued/respected) opinion on.

  • Police Officer: Sure not everyone WANTS to do that job, but everyone sure as shit thinks they know HOW to do the job Police train strenuously and study for.* “Couldn’t he just shoot him in the leg?” – “It’s obvious he’s the bad guy, just arrest them already!” – “I don’t know sossiffer, how fast were YOU going when I killed old man Peabody’s pine tree?”
  • Medical Doctor: A professional who spends the super valuable first eight years of their post-teenage lives in school being overworked, underpaid, overworked again, crapped on, and then taken for granted only to hear “I read online that seaweed/tumeric enema’s will cure my cancer, not your crazy drugs. You’re just another shill for big pharma!” when they try to do their jobs, saving someone’s life.
  • Scientists (of all stripes, colours and creeds): Yeah whatever pal. I know you claim to gather ‘evidence’ and ‘facts’ about atmospheric particulates, cellular permeability, environmental carbon absorption rates, tsunami related geologic stability and solar flares, have that information crossed checked and verified by a worldwide community of equally trained and informed individuals and then published using a language designed to maintain objectivity and remain as free of bias as humanly possible, but when I fly in a plane the horizon looks FLAT, so how do you explain THAT?

*(Writer’s Note: I am NOT opening up a conversational Pandora’s box regarding Police training, use of force, racial profiling or any other topic in those regards. Please find another blog to get mad at someone about.)

And then there’s ‘screenwriter’ (okay so there’s FOUR professions – the WRITER HAS EDITED!) What I mean is, since (most) everyone is literate, everyone thinks they can WRITE. Yes, in one sense if you understand the structure and symbols of the language you use to communicate you can indeed write, but being able to drive a transparent car doesn’t make you a mechanic.

what
Yeah I’m not sure I get that example either…

Because people can string words together, they think they can ‘write’ in the manner needed to tell a convincing, compelling story. Wrong-O. For most folk this doesn’t matter, because MOST folk are smart enough to not try and become a screenwriter. For those (dumb) intrepid enough to try their hand at screenwriting, it turns out the truth is much harder to swallow, like that damned artificial banana flavoured penicillin they used to give us as kids.

So you’ve just sent off your heart warming Space-Whale masterpiece and the notes you get back from the people on high start out with “We love it, but in the 3rd act when the Space-Whale flies our hero’s to the moon, can we instead have it fight The Rock (in this case they mean a DVD copy of the Michael Bay film and not Dwayne Johnson) in a Lithuanian prison for cigarettes? Keep the rest of the story the same, but just change that.”

other what
This is like me, almost all the time.

Being a reliable, employable type with a good attitude you say “Okay, I’ll just have to find a way to change the climax then where the Space-Whale swallows the crystal monster to save the moon from imploding and destroying Earth.” And they say “No, keep that, just put it in a Lithuanian prison instead.” – Now you’re less thrilled: “Uhmmm, how do I do that?” – “You’re the writer, you’ll figure it out.”

Because screenwriting is easy, right? You can just change around 26 symbols any old way and have them mean whatever you want, to serve whatever purpose. If you think you can’t do that because “INTEGRITY” and “STORY” and “MAKING SENSE” pffft, then maybe you’re not the right writer for the job.

integrity
Basically all of filmmaking.

This commercial LITERALLY (I mean that literally) sums up how I think most producers/executives STILL think of screenwriting:

‘Death Slug’ The Movie! (In IMAX 3D) (seriously just click the link – I don’t want to have to recap a commercial)

Yes, screenwriting is a simple afterthought that requires at most a weekend to solve. Because they don’t have to really do the work, they just have to tell YOU to do the work, and since you’re (sometimes) paid to do that as a job, it should be freaking easy. It’s just words after all.

Yeah, everyone thinks they can do this job.

2) Do you want to start finding fault in things you LOVE?

I have made it a point in my life to NEVER, EVER work with food. I’m no chef and I don’t have the stellar abs/glutes of all those actors-turned-servers who keep our food flowing at local dining establishments, and I personally and shamefully LOVE fast food, so working there is also OUT.

Fast Food is Life!

fast food
Sometimes you find a YouTube video that just speaks to you.

(Gotta tag my homie Ling for showing me that clip, and my boy Andrew. He knows why.)

You see, it’s clear to me that I don’t want to know how the McNuggets are made. I just don’t. I love shovelling down those little poppler taste bundles and I don’t want anything to ruin that. Hearing the tales I have from people who worked fast food in high school I have serious reservations about learning the truth of my most destructive past-time.

Screenwriting is like that as you get better and better at it, because you start to see how the McNuggets are made when Lt. Stamets tells Capt. Lorca (‘Star Trek: Discovery’ people, please try and keep up) towards the end of  ‘Into the Forest I Go’ that his next Spore Drive jump “will be his last ever” and then when we get “one more jump” repeated again we know what’s going to happen. The ship may as well be named the ‘USS Live Forever, NCC One Day From Retirement’ because we KNOW that things are not going to turn out hunky dory,. Nothing that’s written is an ‘accident’, so when someone says ‘It’s all gonna be okay’ , you know it isn’t.

I sat down to watch one of my most FAV films a few months ago, Michael Mann’s magnum opus ‘HEAT’, a thrilling, atmospheric tour through the high stakes professional crime world of 90’s LA and an examination of the flawed robbery/homicide detectives tasked with keeping a lid on it.

pacino
And the source of this timeless screen-grab. #oscarwinningactor

As I watched the languidly unfolding first act, you know what I realized? This movie I adored deeply needed a rewrite; The film is difficult to follow without repeated viewings, much of the dialogue is ham-fisted and without nuance, several scenes exist purely to brow-beat the viewer into feeling a certain way about a character (Vincent’s scene with the mother of the young prostitute Waingro just murdered, specifically. It seriously has no purpose to the plot other than being there for the mother to freak out over her dead child and for Vincent to be there at the right moment to comfort the screaming/grieving woman. The plot doesn’t move forward; the murder provides no clues that lead to the films conclusion. It’s there ONLY so we can see Vincent being ’empathetic’, and it’s pretty transparent in its purpose.)

Match this with the scene towards the end where Vincent comes home to find his ex-girlfriends daughter having slit her wrists in his bathtub, and you have a whole mess of clumsily constructed plot contrivances meant to make us feel the ‘tragedy’ of Vincent Hanna’s character. What’s worse is these elements aren’t needed as the finale with Vincent and Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro, duh) in the game of ‘cat-and-mouse’ at the airport is more powerful than anything concocted to manipulate us into feeling for these characters.

(And if you’re pissed that I just spoiled multiple elements of a movie that’s 20+ years old, I’ve got news for you: The Titanic sinks, Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, turns out Charleton Heston was on Earth all along and David kills Dr Shaw and then poses as Walter.)

family portrait
Spoiler, David is evil.

Yes I still enjoy watching the film and Mann’s thematic, stark directing are a wonder to see, but the actual story is VERY weak in some places. I loved this film when I was younger and more naive about story telling. Now that I have a much better grasp on what good screenwriting is though, I can’t enjoy the film the same way I used to.

This problem extends further though. Remember ‘Oblivion’? That Tom Cruise movie with an awesome soundtrack, terrifying droid bots, cool atmospheric fighter-plane thingies and not much else?

droid
Those droids were TERRIFYING – take note, past producers of ‘Ghost In The Shell’

Well in Tom Cruise’s opening monologue (which wasn’t needed in the first place) he tells us that’s he’s feeling peachy since his last mysteriously necessary memory wipe. The screenwriter in me immediately cracked the code and went “Oh, we’re doing ‘Moon’ then? This is just gonna be ‘Moon’ with Tom Cruise?”

moon movie
Actually a far superior film.

And it was. SPOILER: “They’re clones” It becomes hard to surprise someone who works with the same toolbox that you do. So if you want to start to be disappointed by the things you love, screenwriting is for you!

3) Do you want your hard work to become completely irrelevant and pointless at the drop of a hat?

Everyone remember last years action extravaganza ‘Suicide Squad’ that stayed true to its source material and left every movie-goer who saw it satisfied beyond belief?  I don’t either. But I DO remember another film also called ‘Suicide Squad’ that was a giant 3 day festival outhouse of wasted potential.

suicide squad
The DCEU was being sooo meta-clever releasing a film like this with ‘suicide’ in its name.

Yeah people remember everything about this film being awful, which is really difficult when you consider it has Will Smith, Margot Robbie as every ‘girl-who-doesn’t-read-comic-books’ favourite comic character Harley Quinn (Seriously I’m not trying to be sexist, but I cannot understand how anyone, male or female, who actually knows Harley Quinn’s STORY could idolize her. It’s like saying you really wish you could be Leslie Van Houten.) It also has Jai Courtney, so that’s just a win. Cara Delevingne as an undead god-queen, and the Joker (who cares who plays him? He’s the fucking joker) How is this movie not amazing?

Well there were stories, and I don’t want to spend any more time searching for them, that the studio played some kind of sick ‘Hunger Games’ with its screenwriters by commissioning five separate professionals to each write the first act of the film, and then they would somehow battle these versions together Thunderdome style to see who wins. It appears that NOBODY won that match and while those screenwriters DID get paid, they hard work that never saw the light of day.

The other great example is the epically original movie ‘Nottingham’. Don’t remember that one? That’s because what you ended up seeing was Russell Crowe and the guy from Great Big Sea doing ‘Gladiator – the 1200’s’

robin hood
“Oh my god, it’s Russell Crowe!”

You see two very skilled screenwriters named Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris sold a screenplay called ‘Nottingham’ about the Sheriff of Nottingham investigating a series of murders using all the forensic techniques available to an era where people still burned witches at the stake and thought you could pay the Pope to sneak you in the back-door to heaven. These killings were of course blamed on Robin of Locksley until those two would encounter each other in the 2nd act break, and team up ’48 Hours’ style to find the REAL killer. How AWESOME was that movie going to be?

Once it was sold and Ridley Scott got his hands on it, we wound up with, you guessed it, SID 6.7 and the guy who sings ‘Run Run Away’ sitting in the mud for two and a half hours, because Ridley Scott really just wanted to do a Robin Hood movie and couldn’t be bothered with this thing called ‘originality’.

sid 67
“Great Big Sea and 6.7 walking through the forest/Laughin’ back and forth at who the other has to slay…”

Is there a lesson in this? Even when you hit it big and make that epic sale, people will probably STILL ruin your film. Which is okay, again, as long as you get paid. (Make sure you get paid.)

There is a silver lining to this issue: People almost NEVER blame the screenwriter if a film is bad. Directors/Actors/Producers? Totally. But screenwriters? Nope. Because the idea is that a bad script should NEVER go to camera, it should be the very best story it can be before anyone ever thinks of dropping millions in coin on getting it made. So your challenge here is making something EXCELLENT for OTHERS to ruin.

alien resurrection
Joss Whedon swears to this VERY DAY that he didn’t write a wrinkly white old grandpa into the climax of ‘Alien: Resurrection’. Knowing his oeuvre I’m inclined to believe him.

4) Do you actually want to be writing?

Confession time: This point the was entire motivation for this weeks blog post, but I didn’t want to give you guys all the goods up front so I made you wade through a bunch of nonsense and funny pictures until I could bring you to the point:

munchausen
Let’s call it ‘The Adventures of Baron Von Blog-hausen’

I just spent the last 10ish days pretty much isolated in my hotel room writing ‘Titan’ – a soon to be indie darling and powerhouse on the film festival circuit (so it is written…) This includes a 6hr stint yesterday where I put more than 25 pages of text, dialogue, action, exposition and laughs to (digital) paper. To some that’s impressive. To others it’s “Why the fuck would you do that to yourself?”

I do it because I want to. Because screenwriting is MY thing, and when I have the chance to actually sit down and CREATE something with words and formatting, I WANT to do that.

This is the biggest thing to being a screenwriter. To do it, to be good at it, you NEED to want to write. Writers write, that’s how it works. And it’s not as simple as some think.

epicwriter
Especially not if you’re using an Apple //e

I know amazing directors who are actually ‘writer-directors’ because they buckle down, write their own scripts and put a ton of effort into getting them made. However these same writer-directors don’t produce material at anywhere near the rate I do, and often lament the fact that while I’ve finished two pilots and feature in the last quarter, they’ve barely scratched the surface of their next project.

The thing is, they’re writing because they want something that matters to them to direct. I write because I want to write. To them writing is a skill they have developed as a means to an end, to fill a place that is lacking – mainly material they want to work with. I write because WRITING is thing I want to do. They want to direct, and become forlorn when they can’t write at the pace a writer can.

I have designs to direct my latest feature ‘Titan’ because I’ve been cultivating a storytelling/screenwriting/filmmaking brand for a decade – Nichecore – (please give it some clicks, I’m pretty sure no-one’s ever looked at my brand intro) But I don’t have a need to be planning out a whole set of things I want to direct, because WRITING is my skill set.

totes accurate
Nothing gets someone hotter than being with a mildly successful screenwriter.

It’s as simple as this: Writers write. Where other people sit in front of screens and wish they were somewhere else and then get lost in Facebook for forty minutes, writers write. It doesn’t make us ‘better’ or more accomplished than those who want to but don’t, it just means where some are totally fine planning and being behind the camera, writers are fine buckling down and getting the words out. I know so many people in the business who get down on themselves for ‘not writing’ when they feel they should, when in fact there are writers everywhere doing their shit and trying to find work.

When you get on an airplane, you don’t get upset that the pilot is flying the machine instead of you. People aren’t bummed that the pilot is doing all the work to get them there when they should be doing it themselves. The pilot is doing literally what a pilot wants to be doing, flying the damned plane. Writers are the same. What makes us different from directors, cinematographers, editors, actors, is that we WRITE. It’s in our blood, it comes from our brains, through our fingers (or weird Sci-Fi cerebro brain link rigs if you’re reading this article 30 years from now).

brain rig
Actually not sure what’s happening here…

If sitting down behind a screen for 6 hours a day and just writing seems like torture to you, then maybe you’re not a writer. And that’s okay – because there ARE writers out there trying to get the work done, provide content and make everyone elses job easier by doing the HERO’S WORK (*cough*cough*) before anyone else does.

The ability to stare at a screen for hours on end and keep oneself focused on the typing task at hand isn’t for everyone, just like rocket surgery isn’t for everyone either. If you think you want to be a screenwriter but the idea of staying parked for hours/days at a time restructuring, reformatting and re-editing fills you with dread, you may really need to reconsider what you want to be doing.

But if it doesn’t – and if you’re like me and the prospect of having hours and hours of writing time ahead of you is exciting rather than nauseating, then screenwriting may very well be your bag. So get on it, start doing what you love and hate everything about yourself for it. It’s the screenwriters way!

airplane

 

 

 

 

QATAR SOLO! Attitude, Baditude, Latitude… (Week 9)

“…Earns you some GRATITUDE!”

Oh jeese, did I seriously just type that? Me, a “professional” writer, rhymed attitude, baditue, latitude AND gratitude? I should turn in my writing card this instant. Like I seriously thought that was a good idea, I even pressed ‘PUBLISH’. Who am I? Thinking that was anything other than a total misstep. WOWZERS…

aw jeez
I’m freaking out here!

Whelp, no time to worry about that now. Not like I have a magic button on this keyboard that can go back and undue all my terrible mistkes.

Today we’re filling a page (and your eyes) with talk about attitude, and in particular I’m talking about attitude when it comes to a writer’s room, working collaboratively on a TV show, how the ‘in’s & outs’ of someone’s attitude (or baditude) can affect the group dynamic and ultimately what ‘latitude’ a good attitude or a baditude can get you. (See how that all fits together nicely?)

fit together
Like this! (Okay this image was waaaay too apt…)

It still amazes me to no end how some people I’ve encountered in this business of screenwriting and filmmaking don’t check their attitudes properly. This is a world where MORE than anywhere else I think (perhaps aside from… illegal arms sales maybe?) word of mouth is the source of your next job. When that word of mouth is good, you’ve got more work coming your way. (I think I’m on the cusp of this myself…) But when you go and ask someone “Hey, have you ever worked with Trenton Ramirez Skarsgaard III?” and they make this face at you…

eeesh face
“Eeeeesh…”

Then Poor Trenton has a problem. Word of mouth has travelled about him, and that word of mouth is “not good”.

We all need to be reliable and capable in what we do. If you can’t show up on time prepared to work, you won’t be called back. No matter how good your attitude, if you’re completely incompetent, ie delivering substandard material or missing the point of the job or just fucking up royally, you won’t find yourself with more work coming up.

broken camera
It was like that when I got here…

I ‘m not talking about those kinds of problems though. I’m talking about people who are competent, capable of delivering good work and skilled enough to be regarded as reliable, but they have a larger problem: their attitude sucks. The trick is a sucky attitude doesn’t always look like what you think it does.

Filmmaking is collaboration. I know when us filmmakers are learning all about the art of the movie we fall in love with the auteurs…

…But auteurs only make up a small fraction of the media being made. Even then, these people all work with massive crews, many of whom they have stuck with for decades. Why? Because they know them. They’ve learned that these people are solid folk to work with. Believe me I don’t believe for a moment that Woody Allen has people returning to his payroll year after year who he thinks “Gosh gee you know, I uh, I just, I really don’t like that guy. He’s… he’s like the Subway Sandwiches of people; good, but nobody really wants to go there, you know.” [BEST Woody Allen impression (as written out) EVER.”]

shouting match
Don’t be like this stock photo…

The kind of attitude people want to work with is one that is engaged, on the ball, accepting of challenges and always prepared to say ‘Yes, I can do that.’ Essentially an attitude that is all about moving forward with the purpose of achieving the goal, of succeeding. The kind of attitude people DON’T want to work with (a ‘baditude’ if you will allow me to reference my title to make it relevant) is the kind that always finds problems, reasons not to do things, wants to set conditions on what they will do and generally stands in the way of getting things done, usually because they want their own contributions to be weighed more heavily than others.

I’m going to try and stay on point, by referencing from my own ongoing experience working in a writer’s room. I’ve learned that there are GOOD things to say in a writer’s room and there are BAD things to say

GOOD Writer’s Room Phrases:

  • “Yes, and…”
  • “Whatabout…”
  • “Does that fly?”

BAD Writer’s Room Phrases:

  • “I don’t like…”
  • “No, because …”
  • “Can’t we just…”

Let’s break things down!

breakdown
Thanks for the levity Google image search…

“Yes, and…” Is the greatest way to demonstrate a good attitude and keep the work moving forward. Anyone who’s taken an improv class knows the benefits of this phrase. It shows that you connect with the idea, even if it doesn’t necessarily float your boat, and you can do something with it, take it somewhere it needs to go. It expands on creativity and keeps a positive flow. Even if you’re not totally down with what’s being pitched, it shows that you recognize the value in the idea and that it can be taken somewhere, ANYWHERE. That’s what a writer’s room is all about, moving ideas forward and finding ways to make them work. “Yes, and then we can take our carrot people off the life raft and put them on the back of the giant Space Whale!”

FF space whale
Return of the Space Whale!

“Whatabout…” There is no better way to divert a train of thought that is in danger of going off the rails than using the phrase “Whatabout…” When someone pitches to you that maybe the Space Whale needs rocket boosters under its flukes that fry the evil pursuing super-sharks as it lifts off into space, and you’re pretty sure that if you’re already using a whale that can fly to the moon, attaching rocket boosters creates the wrong image, you bust out ‘Whatabout if the giant whale has huge wings that creates a storm on the ocean when it flaps them, and this storm tosses the super-sharks around?” You’re not crushing anyone’s contribution, you’re taking what they said and moving it in a different direction. You’re not saying “You’re idea is terrible, mine is better.” What you’re saying is “There’s a different way to approach this that might fit the story more effectively, lets explore that.”  It’s a professional way of saying “Let’s try something else”. Dare I say that there are no “Bad Ideas” (except for Transformers that can look exactly like people, that ruins EVERYTHING ‘Transformers’ is supposed to be about.) There’s just bad execution. Not every contribution is going to be gold, but that doesn’t mean you shit on the person making a not-stellar contribution (I’m talking to you Doug – you know why). Having a good attitude doesn’t mean taking every idea as if it had equal merit and usefulness. It means knowing how to frame the discussion in a way that doesn’t stifle the contribution of ideas, no matter how zany. Almost any suggestion has a nugget of worth to it, and “Whatabout…” takes that nugget in a whole different direction. (Unless that nugget is Transformers becoming people.)

ruins everything
Seriously RUINS. EVERYTHING.

“Does that fly?” Is the inclusive way of asking if what you’ve put out matches up with what you need. You aren’t asking for validation of your wicked Space Whale contribution, what you’re asking is if what’s been established serves the story. You aren’t asking the group “Do you like my idea, and therefore approve of me as a person?” What you’re asking is “Does this serve the story we’re trying to tell?” If it don’t fly people will either “Yes, and…” or “Whatabout…” you until success is achieved. Working on episodic TV is about coming to the best story possible, not about affirming someones ego. The right attitude just wants the show to be the best it can be, regardless of who pitches the idea. (Just make sure to take credit for ideas where credit is due, if they are yours. It’s definitely a team effort, but we all need to stake our claims when gold is found.)

space whale
Space Whale winnebago’s? Total GOLD.

Baditude phrases…

“I don’t like…” Nobody cares what you like. What you ‘like’ isn’t going in the episode, what’s good for the episode and moves the story is what’s needed, not a breakdown of someones preferences (NOTE: Unless you’re the showrunner, they always get what they like, cuz it’s their show.) It’s that simple. “I don’t like…” tells people you’re more concerned about your own sense of aesthetics than contributing to the group. Everyone wants what they do to be great, but what you think is great is not necessarily what everyone else thinks is great OR works for the story, and unless you are that mythical showrunner, what you think is great has no extra weight. All this phrase does is stand in the way of moving forward. It shuts down contributions by attaching a personal prefence and value to the ideas, rather than letting them function in their larger capacity vis a vis the story you’re trying to tell. “I don’t like…” is invariably followed up with the question “Fine, what do YOU want to see?” which immediately attaches excessive value to the opinion of the person being asked. The baditude being expressed here is that ‘my contributions are better than yours’, and that’s not an attidute that earns your kudos or a desire to be worked with.

moon whale
“And if our passengers on the right side of the Space Whale will look out their windows…”

“No, because…” Is just simply the worst way of expression oneself in creative, collaborative environments. It beats out “I don’t like…” because at least there we can chalk your baditude up to your own overvaluation of your crappy taste. This just shuts things down completely. “No, because…” not only closes down contribution and conversation, but also implies that whatever reasoning you are about to spout is so unassailable it would be ridiculous for anyone to disagree with you. “No, because the Space Whale will have nowhere to land on the moon if it flies them there, no oceans after all.” Well thanks for completely cutting the legs out from under any idea. Again the baditude being expressed is one that says “I know better.” and believe me, in many cases you so, so don’t. I have dropped what I thought were some amazingly creative bombs into stories that ultimately didn’t get picked up and were passed over for less innovative or creative solutions. I didn’t get all “No, because…” I wanted MY ideas to be there. Instead I recognied the wisdom of contribution, and deferred to what was best for the story being told. A writers room needs to be a place where all ideas can flow freely, not where people are afraid to speak up because someone’s always telling them their ideas aren’t good, and “No, because…” does nothing but broadcast that someone with baditude thinks someone’s ideas aren’t any good.

cloud whale
Now I’m just entertained by crazy whale pictures.

“Can’t we just…” is the most infuriating phrase to hear in a writer’s room, but it is also one which has a strange usefulness in select situations.  “Can’t we just…” is an absolute idea killer. “Can’t we just not have a Space Whale?” – “Can’t we just have them drive to the moon?” “Can’t we just…” is a way of saying “I don’t want to find a way to make this work, let’s take the easy route. Easy isn’t creative or engaging or interesting. Easy isn’t dramatic. The ONLY place “Can’t we just…” is acceptable is when you’re finalizing an outline/script and you have an implacable issue that won’t be resolved by any other means. Think ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ when Indy shoots the scimitar wielding man in the town square: “Can’t we just shoot him?” In that case, it solved a production issue, hit a humour moment, and helped make the film, but they made that choice on the day to solve the issue of Harrison Ford having the squirts. “Can’t we just…” Is the tactical nuke of screenwriting used to solve severe issues, it’s not the fallback remark of a cooperative staff writer. The baditude it displays is one that says you can’t be bothered to do the work because it’s easier not to.

Attitude makes or breaks you in this business. I know several very talented individuals who have earned themselves a baditude through simply being obstinate, believing their ideas and contributions are superior and should carry more weight than others. Sure, maybe they DO have some great ideas and contributions, but thinking that makes you more worthwhile that the other creators is DEATH to your employability. We want to work with people who will contribute to success, who will help a project reach its goal. Not folks who refuse to proceed until something matches their exacting specifications. Problems get worked out along the way, as long as that train is rolling. If it never leaves the station the problem isn’t quality, it’s that you’re not going anywhere. No one wants to work with (or recommend) someone who says ‘No’ all the time until they hit on some magic combination of ideas that strokes their ego enough to get them to move.

einstein
Proven mathematically.

Likewise feeling that a contribution is ‘enough’ is another way to get you killed, employment wise. When you’ve put work in, and the feedback you get is “This may need to change/whatabout this/could we try this?” and your response is “No, because…” you just shot your foot off with a giant laser blaster because it shows your baditude is “What I did is enough, and I can’t be bothered to put in more just because.” Sure there are times when changes need to stop happening, like on the day of shooting. But sometimes the very best contributions are the ones that come at the last mintue, and if you’re not into accomodating that, then you’re not doing your project justice, and not sending the right signals about your attitude towards the work.

If you have the right attitude, if you’re ‘easy to work with’, you will also earn some ‘latitude’. You can make more mistakes, take more chances, because it’s clear it’s not about ‘you’, it’s about doing the best for the job. Sure everyone is going to fuck something up SOMETIME. You can either take that as a huge blow to your ego or you can take it in stride and keep moving. People who get hung up on failures quickly develop baditudes as they come across as being unable to get past the failure rather than accepting the fact that they won’t always be right, and being okay with that.

flying whales
One more flying whale image…

I have done my honest best out here to cultivate the best attitude I could with my approach to the work, and without letting much slip it seems to already be leading to bigger and better things. I’ve always come at the job from the position of  “I want this show to be the best it can be.” If that means me contributing great ideas at all hours of the day, then I do that. If it means me backing off something I think is fucking awesome because it just doesn’t fit with where we’re trying to take the story, I roll with it. The show isn’t about me. I’m just here to contribute everything I can and hope something rises above the rest and serves the story the way the episode needs. It’s this attitude that is already leading me not to fear what comes up after this job is over, because I’m already comfortable in the fact that my attitude has been noticed and will lead to bigger and better things. That’s what a good attitude is supposed to do.

totally lied
So I totally lied. I think I have a ‘whale’ of a problem… Yeah, I also typed that too.

QATAR SOLO! The Victory of Defeat (or something…) – Week 8…

Yeah even I’ll admit that’s a weird title. I’m hoping by the end I’ll have forced it all to make sense, but trust me, it’s totally apt to today’s topic.

See I’ve been flying pretty high these past few weeks out here in the sand and sun. Partly due to my ongoing (possibly inflated) sense of acheivement for having delivered an absolutely killer episode on my debut as a staff writer and partly due to the continuing praise that has generated from peers and colleagues alike on this mission we call ‘TV writing’.

calvin gets an a
It literally feels like this sometimes…

From that illustrious first homer out of the park in this game of sportsball I have proceeded forward with an absolute certainty in my ability to follow my dream, to work hard and deliver on what I say I can and to generally achieve anything and everything I have ever wanted. Why not? I’ve worked (on and off) for more than a decade to get myself to where I am, and in my mind this job is not the culmination of all that work, it’s just a stepping stone to the next thing. As terrified as I am to write it out sometimes, this job is not just a chance ‘flash in the pan’ of luck that will never be repeated, but rather is the first of many opportunities that I will both make for myself and I will come across as I keep chasing down everything I want to get out of life.

We can all see where this is going, right? (Yeah Steve, we read the title after all.)

The reality trainwreck has to hit sometime…

reality trainwreck
I need to thank Robert Zemeckis for this beautiful illustration of the point I’m about to make.

How could anything stand in my way now, right? I’m a staff writer on a real TV show that people will (hopefully) see one day, I’ve demonstrated to everyone around me that not only can I do the heavy lifting out here, but most importantly I DESERVE to be here, thanks to my skill and talent. I’m not here because someone’s done a favour for a poor schmuck who can’t catch a break – I can do this whole screenwriting thing and I can do it well! I’m good – I don’t dare say “I’m the best there is” because that’s arrogant as all hell but I can definitely say I am ‘good’ at it. Good like so many others, but good nonetheless.

So several weeks earlier I chose to submit ‘Diesel Wars’ to (now several) screenwriting competitions. For those not fortunate enough to be ‘in the know’ ‘Diesel Wars’ is essentially ‘Band of Brothers’ set in a dieselpunk universe.

“Yay!” My lovely wife thinks to herself, “Something else he writes that I’ll never watch!”

I created it as an outlet for myself after I spent several months working on MOW projects that I can tell you my heart was not totally “in”. I wanted  to create something ‘franchisey’ that was still somewhat affordable (in my mind at least) – nothing was set in space, nobody had super powers, existing terrain around Vancouver could be used and even existing WW II era uniforms could be repurposed for the show. Sure it’s not ‘Master of None’ level affordable, but it also isn’t ‘The Expanse’. I wanted to create a franchise world that I didn’t have my heart and soul dug into, ie. I could easily sell it off to someone else without feeling like I was losing a baby, if such an opportunity arose. I even picked the title specifically to invoke the same feeling as ‘STAR WARS’ in people because that’s never a bad association…

So I went and submitted the pilot to a few places, and (full disclosure) I admit that I NEVER thought I would win any of these competitions. “Why enter then, idiot?” You ask. Because I wanted to see how the concept and story fared against other submissions. I wanted to see how far I could make it. Maybe it WOULD go far, who knew? In my mind the ‘semi-finals’ were always the hardest bottleneck for me to pass. The concept is fun enough and exciting enough for genre fans like myself to get on board with, while still not exactly appealing to the ‘prime time drama’ audience. I saw a Netflix/HBO/Amazon/Hulu kind of destination for it.

So the first round of notifications came in this week for the quater-final qualifications of the first competition entered.

Now in my mind, ‘quarter-final’ eliminations are largley the ‘spelling/punctuation/formatting’ eliminations. Ie, if you can’t spell, can’t format and don’t know what the hell you’re doing, this is where you get cut. The REAL cuts come when the semi-finals come around and decisions need to be made based on taste and feasibility. I’ve always known that my taste is awesome but sometimes needs to be ‘acquired’ – it’s ‘feasibility’ that often gets me. I’m not sure I’ve ever concocted a project that is ‘low budget/low barrier/easy to pull off’. Mainly because I don’t look for that in my TV shows. If you get to make things up from your imagination, why not go all out and make up some pretty awesome stuff?

dieselpunk battle
I mean how hard is this to pull off, REALLY?

So you’ve all guessed by now, right?

Yeah. Got cut before the quarter-finals. Me, Steve The Wicked Cool Moody, staff writer on a TV show, holder of at least three other WAY more complicated and expensive franchise concepts and progenitor of the ‘one day to be famous Nichecore screenwriting brand’ couldn’t get his foot in the door for a TV pilot competition. I was confused. I was heartbroken. I was FURIOUS.

Like for real? The ONE thing I’ve been shown out here is that I know what I’m doing. I may not be the greatest screenwriter who ever lived (yet) but I have the tools, the talent and the work ethic. At the very least that should show in my work, it should get me INTO the goddamned quarter-finals of a competition on competency alone. Here I am now relegated to the ’empty trash’ folder with everyone who doesn’t know their there’s, their’s and they’re’s (if anyone wants to point out that my apostrophe use is incorrect, don’t, if there is any grammatical challenge in the world I know I still have, it’s apostrophes.) I’m in the rubbish with first-time pilot scribes and the people who are certain that their ‘Capt. Mens Rights Activist’ spec pilot is timley and needed.

Let’s not split hairs about how I felt about all this – I felt that I was BETTER than the stuff I had been lumped in with, and I definitely felt my work was BETTER than a good chunk of what made it further than my epic TV pilot. I felt that I had earned a spot above struggling writer and that this fact should somehow be visible in my work.

entitlement

Yeah I was feeling a little entitled without ever realizing it. Like I said, I wasn’t looking to ‘win’ this competition, I just wanted to place higher than I ended up doing so. But if I never really figured I’d win, what did it matter that I was out now or two months from now?

Because I had thought my genius was obvious by this point. And like so much else in this business, nothing is ever guaranteed. If I ever wanted a reality check on where I stood with everything, there it was in about as direct and bright a realization as I could ask for. I may have talent and skill, but I can’t just sit on that assuming it’ll get me where I want to go. Nobody will ever give anything to me here, I’m going to have to work for it harder and better than everyone around me.

bracket
How could someone NOT love something I created?

So I try not to be too bitter. Maybe a little bitter, but not too much. There are a few more competitions coming up that ‘Diesel Wars’ is already entered into. We’ll see how I fare there. I’m loathe to spent more money entering it into any futher competitions until I get some feedback on where the draft is now. So if anyone out there wants to take a READ and get back to me, I’d be pretty thrilled to have the feedback. Hit me up!

What do I take away from all of this? That the entertianment industry is a horrible bitch-goddess that continually beats you down until you wish stupid-Flanders was dead? Yes. Also though, I need to take away the fact that I am a LOOOONG way off of being the valued commodity I’m seeking to be. I’ve proven that I can deliver on making other peoples work great, but I need to keep trying to show that whay my noggin creates can be amazing too.

IMG-1711
How can anyone who can draw something this cool not be an immediate commodity?

I’ve always struggled with what I feel is a disconnection between my concepts and my talent. I put words to the page in a style that is frantic, exciting and engaging, but I still have problems getting people, even my illustrious colleagues, to read my own work. Then I feel like I never quite get the reaction I want to something that I am 100% certian is absolute gold.

This is the lesson right? That until you really champion yourself and carry your own work forward what you see in your mind is never the same as what other people get? I’m sure that has to be it. One day I’m going to have that ‘Created By’ credit on a TV show that people can actually watch/stream and it’s going to just make my whole universe. But I’m not there yet. I think that maybe I was already getting too complacent with where this one job was taking me, and the sad reality check that being cut from the competition was a needed kick in the pants to keep moving.

I’ve come a very long way in a relatively short time, or I’ve come a somewhat okay distance in an extremely LONG duration of time, depending on how you look at it. The last thing I want to do is trip over my own sense of arrogant self entitlement. Being part of this business means having a tough skin, a thick skin. No matter how far you make it, how long you’ve been doing it, and how great people tell you that you are, you’re still going to hear a ridiculously disproportionate amount of ‘No’s for every valued ‘Yes’ and I needed to have that point driven home for me.

no yes
Such is life…

I know people in the business right now who are having a very hard time with how often ‘No’ is wielded over ‘Yes’, and I get it, I sure as hell do. The trick for me is I’ve spent such a large portion of my life following the wrong path, doing things I never cared about and never really wanted to be doing, thinking that was what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I just can’t stay there anymore. I would rather spend the rest of my days trying to find that elusive yes than surrendering to the fact that I will mostly hear ‘No’s.

There was a time earlier in my life when being cut before the quarter-finals would’ve crushed me nearly beyond saving. (Hell, ask a few people around me when it happened and they’ll probably tell you it almost did this time) Now though, after a day of licking my wounds, I was back at it once again. I may not be pumping a whole lot of money into more competitions at the moment, but you can bet I’m still working at this everyday, writing my own work and work for others, knowing that I will be much more satisfied with plugging on than giving up.

glow hula
Stay tuned…

As part of my big desire to see MY concepts come to fruition though I do have a goal for 2018 . I’m going to be shooting my own feature next year. It will be incredibly low budget, incredibly easy to make, and absolutely SPOT ON in terms of everything I want to explore with Nichecore, storywise and visually. It’s an epicly complex goal, but one I feel I need to deliver for myself.

When I’ve wrapped ‘Qatar Solo’ I’ll follow it up with a chronicle of my journey bringing my (as yet to be completed) screenplay ‘TITAN’ to the screen. The process behind that project starts tomorrow with me writing ‘Fade In’ on the script. I’ve always wanted to be a writer far more than I’ve wanted to be a director, but sometimes when you see things in your head so clearly, yet it’s obvious others do not, you need to step out of your comfort zone and truly take a risk.

So yeah, I guess I found some kind of ‘Victory’ in my stinging defeat afterall. More importantly what I really found was a way to make that non-sensical title relevant by the end of my post! Hurray!

Until next time friends.

pink hair
BOOM-tss BOOM-tss BOOM-tss BOOM-tss…

QATAR SOLO! “What’s Missing.” – Week 7

First off I GOTTA send a shout-out to Google Image Search, they almost never let me down, and today’s featured image is a prime example. It could also be titled ‘Bicycling in Vancouver’ (the image, not the blog post) if we wanted to be a little salty, but I’m above all that. Above all that unless this was a Facebook ‘Trek group and you were being an uninformed troll, in which case I would take your ‘Trek disparing ass to school like it was Saturday and you were Judd Nelson.

judd nelson
A good 75% of my readership (2.7 ppl I think) just went “Ohhhhh, that guy!”

Yeah, seven weeks out here now. Not sure when that happened, but I suspect six weeks and six days ago. I’ve had my laundry done twice, I’ve been to the gime a grand total of six times (some of you think “Once a week, pffft!” but the truth is that’s all in the last eight days) I’ve broken 8 1/2 story outlines, with mad respect to Fellini…

fellini
“Why that’s the sound of a screenwriter being pretentious…”

…I’ve written one full episode on our show, read three other full screenplays: two outlines and one TV pilot, revamped TWO of my own pilots, worked out half a rewrite on one feature and done the brain work (ie. ‘thought about’) another. (None of this counts the amount of screenplay/teleplay reading I’ve done as part of the job, ie reading episodes of our show.) All in all that is not a bad place to be. My days have consisted of approximately four hours 5/6 days a week in our writers room and then another 2.5 to 3 hours of me writing my own work after the fact, when I’m not on script, and those rare occasions when I AM on script here that works out to more like 7 hours a day. It’s intense but there’s a lot that’s getting done, can’t be that bad.

Somewhere in there I’ve found time to watch the 2nd Season of ‘Daredevil’, the 3rd season of ‘Narcos’, both seasons of ‘The Expanse’ (both seasons avail on Netflix out here at least) all of Rick & Morty at least once, all of ‘The Get Down’ (again) the 7th season of ‘Game of Thrones’ (totally called the Zombie Ice Dragon by the way) all of ‘Master of None’ (why didn’t anyone just tell me it was the new ‘Seinfeld’?) and when I’m just looking to laugh I plough my way through ‘Happy Endings’ again. Damn I love that show. (That’s me foreshadowing a blog post about ‘Happy Endings’. Stay tuned!)

Oh yes, I’ve also eaten meals at some pretty damn fine restaurants, been to a museum, been to the local market and toured numerous strange and exotic malls. I’ve signed up for another glorious round of coaching with the amazing Kat Karpoff. I’ve watched 3 films in theatres and been a tad disappointed by the oppressive ‘editing for content’ I’ve experienced in each. Is it bizarre though that in ‘Bladerunner 2049’ there was approximately 10 minutes cut out yet I barely noticed? (And yeah that totally includes the threesome with the human, the replicant and the hologram – Oh what a modern age of storytelling we live in – rule 34 starting to demand it’s own film content!)

joi
I did think it was weird the Joi talking billboard wore a parka in the version I saw.

Sounds epic right? Sounds like someone (It’s me right? I’m talking about me? I hope so!) is having the time of their life out here. In some ways, I’m absolutely right me, I’m having an amazing, excellent, life changing experience of a time out here.

homer marge
“…I want to explore the world. I want to watch TV in a different time zone. I want to visit strange, exotic malls. I’m sick of eating hoagies! I want a grinder, a sub, a foot-long hero. I want to LIVE Marge! Won’t you let me live?…”

But being nearly two months in, I’m starting to feel the pull of the things I miss. I’m starting to realize what parts of my life I left back home and I’m wishing were out here with me. Sometimes it’s things, sometimes it’s people. Sometimes it’s a copy of the movie ‘Cloverfield’ that doesn’t buffer for 5 seconds every minute and a half.

I can hear the wheels turning in some of my biggest fan’s (Hi Mom!) heads right now: “Did he just say he’s been going to the gime?”

gime

Yes. I’ve been going to the gime. Somewhere Marisa is jumping for joy while I hang my head in shame. Not the kind of shame that I wish upon others for attending the gime, just the kind I wish upon myself because frankly, I hate the gime. I really do. There’s is nothing less appealing to me than a room fulll of overcomplicated equipment who’s only purpose is to make me hate the very reason I am there.

“Why did you surrender Steve?” Asks the person I need to ask a question to provide the next step in this paragraph. It’s because of the first and biggest thing I’m missing out here, something I even wrote about in a previous entry: Walking.

Wait, you mean in Qatar everybody flies around on rocket-cycles and hovering Tesla-mobiles? No. It’s the heat thing. As I’ve said before, in my world back home anything within an hour by foot is ‘walking distance’, but out here if I tried that I’d either be A) a stain on the concrete, because A1) It seems that rather than learning to drive, everyone in Doha is just given a copy of GTA V and told that as long as you have less than three stars by the time the test is over, you passed and A2) Doha seems to treat sidewalks the same way Vancouver treats bike lanes; they exist and people use them, but there’s definitely not enough and most drivers seem to hate them with the intensity of a thousand O type stars (those are big ones). ‘Sidewalk’ here seems to translate into ‘parking space’ no matter what language you speak.

gta gif
If you think he’s a bad driver just because he’s an elephant, you’re racist.

…what point was I making? Oh yeah A) traffic has either killed me if I was walking, or B) the fucking 50* heat has killed me by heat-stroke or dehydration on curb stomping by the angry sun. I don’t know what a nation full of such devoutly religous people did to piss off the day-star, but it has a real hate-on for this place.

So without my ability to get places by walking I’ve been robbed of my traditional form of exercise. Thus the gime. Don’t worry though Steve fans, I’m not pressing benches or crunching abs or any of that nonsense. Nope. Treadmill. Two episodes of Rick & Morty a day or one episode of TNG (depending on whether or not there’s a new Mission Log podcast coming out I want to be prepared for.) Soon Mission Log will be moving into DS9 territory so I’ll need to change that up. Needless to say I do the hamster thing five days a week so I don’t turn into any more of a giant fatass than my dudely frame will support.

far out man
Officially beats out ‘Spocks Eyebrow’ for most commonly used image on my site.

So the heat keeps me from walking – which leads me to the next thing I’m missing hard out here. It’s the most bizarre (but also most Canadian) statement I will ever make:

I miss the cold.

Sure this country is the Emir of air-conditioning (see what I did there) but that’s not genuine cold. It’s fake cold. It’s cold that lets you live, but it doesn’t feel right. It’s not ‘rosy cheeks’ cold, it’s not ‘fresh, autumn cold’, it’s moonbase 2029 cold, canned cold. Like if in ‘Spaceballs’ the title villains were after cold instead of air and they kept it in Perrier cans, that kind of cold.

I miss the joy of moving from the brisk cold outside to the gentle warmth of inside. Not like leaving the faux-cold of the hotel for the blistering humidity of the outside, nobody wants/likes that. I want to have to zip up my jacket because ‘damn I thought it was supposed to be sunny today!’*

(* note for readers: I am in no way endorsing the absurdly ludicrous cold of the centre of Canada. All you Albertans, Saskatchewanians, Manitobinos, Ontariarians, you can keep your bloody -20, I want no part of that.)

But say maybe 12? 7 with the wind chill? A daring dip down to the almighty ‘0’? Is that really too much to ask of this desert nation? I mean most of their malls have skating rinks in them so you’d think they’d be on this whole ‘climate controlled’ thing a little better. Hell, they have an air-conditioned park OUTDOORS. What kind of bizarre world is this when you can even put canned-cold outside?

shining cold
So appealing right now.

Any Canadian (or nordic, or Russian or New Englander) readers I may have are abandoning me now, telling me how lucky I am that my jeans don’t freeze stiff outside. HA! For that to be true I’d have to be able to WEAR jeans outside losers!

So what else am I missing? My family. Yeah, my brothers – I totally miss Trivia night at the Stormcorw with Mike, and Mom & Dad are great but that’s not really what I mean. I mean my lovely wife Marisa who I devoted an entire blog post to two weeks ago. I mean my sinister cat and my amazing dog.

I say sinister cat because I now have proof that Thom Bosley is a 15th level evil Wizard who can command 9th level spells. How do I know this? Yesterday, after having been here for nearly seven weeks, having used my computer every day and having my laundry done at least once, I found one of his hairs on my keyboard.

HOW!?!?!?!!??!?!?!?!

Dear god, HOW!?! Why he’d want to use his access to Correspondence 4 and bend one of his hairs around the globe to reach me is beyond my understanding, but he most definitley did it, I have no doubt.

necrocatreal
He’ll swallow your soul, he will!

I miss that absolute terror. And apparenlty, based on the degree to which he’s peeing on the dogs things back home (I’m hearing) he misses me a lot too. I miss his angry swipes at my legs, his tormenting of the dog, his tail whipping back and forth in my face while he sits on my chest. I’ve never missed abuse so much.

Of course there’s my little raggamuffin as well, little miss Eleanor Rigby Roosevelt Moody.

lennycute
Cannot… resist… adorableness…

They say there’s only one ‘cutest dog in the world’ and every dog-owner has them. I was Facetiming the other night with Marisa while she took little Lenny for a walk and I couldn’t get over how badly I missed her. I missed the way no matter what you do she always needs to be pulling on the leash. I missed the way she refuses to poop in the rain (because really who DOES want to poop outside in the rain?) I miss the way she loses her shit over skateboards and for some reason (non-racist, I pray to GOD) the way she barks at old Asian people.

She even still knows my voice, and it confuses her. While Facetiming I saw her about to do that thing where she terrorizes Thom and in my best ‘dog-dad’ voice I said her name in that special way: ‘E-LEA-nor’ and she STOPPED! She remembers by voice, even if she hasn’t smelled me around in almost two months. When I finally get back I’m not sure who’s going to lose their shit more on our reunion; me or her. (It’ll be me. I’ll be a blubbery mess.)

I also miss the amazing socializing Eleanor brings me.

E and A
This is seriously the ONLY time I’ve been able to get BOTH of them to look decent at the same time. 

That’s Lenny with her ‘arranged boyfriend’ Atreides. So much of my time was spent walking around Everett Crowley park with those two monsters and Melanie Jones that I can feel the withdrawal out her acutely.

Because that’s the other element I’m missing. I’m missing tea and dogs and walks with Mel. I miss sitting in McDonald’s arguing plot points with Andrew. I miss absolutely crushing a binge-watched TV show with Ling. I miss just shooting the shit about Ukrainian bootlegs of Sicilian period dramas from the 70’s with Josh. I miss talking the finer points of film with Brandon. I miss boardgames with Al, lunches with Amy, movies with Dan, parties with Alasdair and collaborations with Lucas.

I miss all those turkeys a whole lot. I miss them, but one day soon I’ll be back and we can do all our things again, and life will feel complete.

Until the next adventure…

see you space cowboy

 

 

 

‘STAR TREK: Discovery’ makes the grade – and sends us back to school.

Hello friends of (and the few haters of – who choose to read this for reasons I cannot fathom. Self flagellation perhaps?) STAR TREK: Discovery! I know the internet has just been on EDGE waiting for me, the authoritarian auteur of all things ‘Trek, to weigh in on the new show.

pralor
“BUT THE KLINGONS – “

Calm down Automated Hater-Unit 571.

I wasn’t about to venture forth with a critical evaluation of the show after the premiere. There simply wasn’t enough to form a fully coherent idea of where DIS (I see DSC a lot around the conversation but I still prefer the title nomenclature that matches previous incarnations) was headed, what it meant and what its strength and weakenesses were based on two episodes. I wasn’t even sure THIS would be the week I finally decided to force everyone to read my thoughts, but after Ep. 5 I concluded that there was no longer any need to wait.

We have a winner, and its name is Discovery.

It’s no perfect game. It’s not a 300 frame. There are some fumbles, a few knock-ons and some terrible on-court technical errors, but in every way that counts Discovery delivers.

Black Alert everybody:

helm control
“GO!” – It may not be ‘Engage’ but it gets the job done.

DIS is definitely a different ‘Trek than we’ve been presented with before. We’ve had more than 700 installments of ‘episodic’ ‘Trek: Go to this planet, meet these people, either try and help them or do your best to change their way of life, then fly off and find a new planet next week. It’s been done. Sure DS9 and ENT really ran hard with the ‘serialization’ ball, but even then they still structured each episode around a particular story. DIS is the first show to move to almost entire serialization, a move that matches the current climate of binge watching and streaming TV.

What if I told you they HADN’T abandoned the episodic structure though?

spock eyebrow
A Vucan says ‘whaaaat?’

While the plot lines from the previous week definitely follow a lead through the next weeks episode, the structure of a self contained story is still present in DIS.

Premiere double-header aside – think to episode 3: “Context is for Kings”. Or ‘the return of Michael Burnham’. Much like Janeway in the beginning of VOY ‘Caretaker’, Lorca takes a young prisoner under his wing (command) and makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Except she does. Until she realizes she doesn’t have much choice. Given a chance to make the most of her situation, she opts to take Lorca’s offer and remain on board Discovery. Fitting as Lorca has been plotting something for her the whole time. The point of the episode is that Burnham discovers what choices she CAN make while her fate is still out of her control.

good good

Ep. 4, with the incredible awkward name of “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s cry” sees Burnham, Tilly and Stamets learn about Ripper, the adorable Dire-Tardigrade. This installment has a dilemma, the fate of the miners on Corvan II which only Discovery can save and the arc progresses through finding a solution using Ripper’s biology, then Burnham realizing what that solution means for our newest cos-playing challenge. By the end of the episode it’s clear that Ripper is not an infinitely powerful Guild-Navigator and that his utilization, even abuse, is taking a toll.

Reach “Choose Your Pain” and the quest to rescue Lorca and that missions connection to Ripper’s fate are their own story line again, while providing a satisfying cap to the running plot threads provided by the previous two episodes. Not entirely ‘self contained’ as ‘Trek once was, but still enjoyable as one offs.

If we compare this to some of DIS contemporaries we can see the difference.

the expanse
That looks like such an awesome ride.

I love ‘The Expanse’ (Yes I know I should read the books, and no, once the show has run its course I probably won’t – I call that the ‘Lord of the Rings’ effect – as in ‘no I haven’t read those either’ but the movies were great) It’s much ‘harder’ Sci-Fi than ‘Trek (remember the age when that wasn’t really possible to say about a show?) ‘The Expanse’ is great drama, realistic science and compelling characters. It’s also a show in great need of a binge, because without two or three lined up in a row, each episode feels a little like threads from last weeks plot just bleeding into the next week. It has that ‘Game of Thrones’ (also no longer need to read the books) thing where you love the show, but you’re hard pressed to remember just what happened in any particular episode because they all run together. If you’ve got three hours to yourself that’s just fine. Enough events go by and enough developments… develop that you’re satiated with where the story moved you to, but one episode on it’s own never seems to sustain enough drama or story to stand alone.

I argue that DIS can still do this. It’s much more satisfying to watch an episode in line with its companions, but a single episode itself is still enough to fulfill the desire for drama and closure.

So it blends in well with the modern binge/streaming model, but still carries the self contained ‘Trekness at its core.

whine
We all knew an image like this would show up sooner or later, right?

I can hear it now from people: “But the Klingons!” – “But the Prime Directive” – “But Vulcans” – “But canon” – “But that one line that an actor said in a show made fifty years ago that must be adhered to without fail forever”

eye roll
New favourite!

If that’s all ‘Trek is to some people, an ever expanding self-referential web that is only acceptable as long as no thread ever contradicts another then they have probably stopped reading this by now – And I invite them to stop. Please. You won’t like anything you read from here on.

‘Trek’s desire for continuity has been both its greatest asset and its biggest folly. Asset because it’s made ‘Trek a truly remarkable franchise in terms of staying relatively internally consistent. A folly because anyone who dares interpret anything differently from what some loud mouth fans believe to be the only possible interpretation is branded a shill of the creators and not a devotee of “True ‘Trek” (Whatever that’s supposed to be). I’m sure even now there are some people out there who claim I’m a paid hack for CBS because I won’t denounce this affront to fandom. (Believe me, if CBS was offering me any money I would TOTALLY take it – as a screenwriter getting your hands on network money is like finding Morn’s stash of latinum – before he swallowed it all).

morn
Frozen latinum pops.

I’ve been a ‘Trek fan since before TNG. There was a time when I was a screaming fanboy like many others, outraged by even the simplest violation of what I thought ‘Trek was supposed to be. It made it hard to appreciate something I used to love. Even TNG was not entirely consistent within itself. As I studied film/tv making and began my writing career, I learned just how tough it is construct a good, compelling story, even without 50+ years of rules laid down before me. Trying to keep EVERYTHING perfectly consistent is a fools errand and sells the strengths of ‘Trek short. I mean the fact that ‘Trek managed to stay SO consistent all this time is a testament to the efforts and talents of the generations of writers/researchers they’ve had working for them.

writers room
“Wait, wait. We Can’t do that. In season 5 episode 22 the engineer used a polarizing spanner to re-tune the plasma flow initiator, so by now everyone on deck 17 would have bowel cancer…”

I realized the problem wasn’t ‘Trek. It was me. I had an IDEA in my head of what ‘Trek was, and when the new shows didn’t ‘match up’ to what I thought they should be, I was disappointed. Yeah no shit. Everyone who’s a fan has a ‘perfect’ version of ‘Trek in their head, and expecting a team of writers & producers who have NEVER MET you and probably NEVER WILL to cater PRECISELY to your desires is self-indulgent bullshit.

I decided to try a different approach. I would let ‘TREK tell me what ‘Trek was. After all I wasn’t the one making it – they were. If I wanted to enjoy it I needed to come and meet on Trek’s terms, not my own. And how much I have learned since then…

This is what I mean by Discovery taking us back to school. It’s teaching us once again that we DON’T have the full picture of what Starfleet and the Federation’s history is. It was always implied that there was an epic struggle against the Klingons yet this was never truly defined. Now we’re understanding what that conflict looked like. In TWOK Carol Marcus remarks that “Starfleet has kept the peace for 100 years” We can either choose to interpret this line as meaning that ‘DIS’ IS NOT CANON or we can interpret it in the sense that the UN has managed to keep relative GLOBAL peace since its inception after WWII – even after having fought the Korean War for three years. (Or 64 years now depending on how you keep score) If the war with the Klingon’s ends before a year is over, does this one year in a century really ruin Starfleet’s record of ‘keeping the peace’? Some can say yes, and my example of the UN in our world still stands.

“Has there ever been a mutiny on a starship?” – “No Mr. Chekov, never.” This can either mean that Michael Burnham VIOLATES CANON or that what happened on the Shenzou wasn’t actually a ‘mutiny’ as Starfleet defines it. Do the rogue actions of one officer constitute mutiny in the broad sense, especially since she didn’t succeed, or does mutiny require a degree of success and coordination among multiple crew members? If anyone can find the STARFLEET (and not just the online dictionary) definition of mutiny as outlined in their regulations I would be happy to take a look and discuss.

mutiny
Crouching Georgiou/Hidden Phaser

What I’m saying is that like in our modern world, just because one person says something that does not make it absolutely irrefutable. Discovery is showing us the amazing growing pains that the Federation went through to reach the relative ‘stable’ time of Kirk’s era – a time which wasn’t really ‘stable’ at all since the Organians needed to impose a peace treaty on both sides to prevent another Klingon/Federation war – a fact that is essentially (and rightfully for stories sake I think) forgotten shortly thereafter. The Klingons went to war with the Federation for a short time in the prelude to the Dominion War, and I didn’t see any Organian’s stopping that. Best I can tell there was no ‘time limit’ on their imposed treaty so what gives? I guess one of ‘Trek’s best shows isn’t ‘canon’ by that definition.

The show takes hits for being too ‘dark’, for being so unlike the ‘positive, hopeful’ view of Humanity that Gene wanted to spread like extra-pleasant herpes. I say if that’s your conclusion you’re not really looking close enough at what DIS is doing. The entire basis of the background arc is a desire to live by Starfleet’s credo of peaceful exploration. In a wonderfully innovative spin on storytelling we are given a situation where this very concept is used against our expectations. Had Georgiou listened to Burnham then yes we would’ve wound up with a devastating engagement but little else. But I mean c’mon, as an audience we know what the deal with the Klingons is, but expecting Georgiou to go against everything Starfleet has taught her about what their mission is and what they’re doing in space is ludicrous. People bitch that Georgiou was ‘naive’ but she literally upheld the ‘optimisitc vision of Humanity’ that so many say is missing from this show.

fight the klingons
If it was her and Chow Yun Fat we would’ve had one amazing crossover fight.

Trek has a long history of Officers making questionable decisions. There’s an entire rogues gallery of Captains and Admirals who violate everything ‘Trek is supposed to stand for:

All officers who gravely misunderstood what their duty was, or abandoned it completely. Now DIS presents us with the mercurial Capt. Gabriel Lorca:

lorca
I saw him burn a barn full of innocent Ferengi once.

And rather than rushing through a 42 minute episode to judge him, we are given a chance to examine this character from multiple angles and points of view. Is he a heartless war-monger? Is he a pragmatic fatalist, exactly the kind of person you need in the most desperate hours of ‘kill or be killed’? Is he a scientist pushed to his very limits? There are those who have decided already that he is Starfleets Hitler and deserves our scorn – but a show wouldn’t be hung on one character who was so easy to dismiss. We are challenged to understand Lorca, to wonder about his motives and try to peel back the layers of a man who quite literally likes to stay in the shadows. Maybe he’ll turn out to be just like Pressman or Kennelly or Ransom, but with the limited exposure we’ve had for him, there are no easy conclusions. Maybe when DIS is over we’ll look at ALL of these characters a little differently. (Except Commodore Stocker – that guy was just a turd.)

The other flashpoint is Burnham, the ‘Mutineer’. She polarizes people like no other. “How can she think of herself as an officer? She’s a menace to everyone around her. I don’t like her.” Yeah, Burnham isn’t the poster-girl for an ideal Starfleet Officer, but does that mean her presence breaks the show? Makes it ‘Not ‘Trek?

Remember these guys?

All very compelling characters (some of them primary cast members) who were not ones to follow the rules, marched to the beat of their own drum. Worf straight up killed a guy (Durass) in front of his First Officer, and later abandoned a Starfleet intelligence asset to rescue his wife, ensuring the asset was killed. Ensign Ro Laren participated in the incident at Garon II that saw eight crew members die and she later betrayed Starfleet to join the Maquis. Julian Bashir is one step removed from Khan Noonien Singh, being genetically resequenced, a truth he kept secret for years, and then later was tempted to join Section 31. Sure Garak wasn’t Starfleet, but Starfleet was happy to make use of his talents when it suited them, and he was more crooked than a Klingon mud mask. Tom Paris was literally lifted out of a Federation prison and later was demoted for dereliction of duty. Torres never graduated Starfleet Academy quite simply because she couldn’t follow the rules. ALL of these individuals have deep flaws running through them that stain their ability to do their duty, but we accept them as characters because of the dimension they add.

What about ‘Sloan’ though? He’s the same in an inverted way. Sloan follows a very SPECIAL set of rules not required of the typical Starfleet officer. In some ways Sloan is MORE Starfleet and upstanding that many on the list, but the career path he’s chosen is one of dubious merit. Without him of course, Starfleet and the Federation would be in a much worse situation than they are with him working behind the scenes.

And let’s not forget the biggest rule breakers of them all:

Yeah. Went there.

Kirk has definitely violated the Prime Directive on numerous occasions. (Destroying Vaal on Gamma Trianguli VI is just the first incident that comes to mind.) He’s also disobeyed direct orders, and stolen a goddammed starship! Spock is almost worse in some ways. He’s commandeered the Enterprise in ‘The Menagerie Pt I & II’ and don’t feed me the ‘ends justify the means’ bullshit about him wanting to do it for Pike, he still broke the rules. Remember this exchange from ST: VI – TUC?

Spock: Mr. Scott, I understand you’re having difficulty with the warp drive. How much time do you require for repair?

Scotty: There’s nothing wrong with the bloody thing…

Spock: Mr. Scott, if we return to Spacedock, the assassins will surely find a way to dispose of their incriminating footwear, and we will never see the Captain or Doctor McCoy alive again.

Scotty: Could take weeks, sir.

That is Spock sure as shit indirectly ordering his chief engineer to falsify a report. Oh yeah, then he also “sort of” defected to Romulus for “diplomatic reasons”, to which we never really get to learn the results since Romulus doesn’t last another 30 years after that.

Good characters in drama are the ones who generate conflict with their actions. Kirk & Spock are Starfleet legends but their careers are, shall we say, ‘colourful’? As much as they are meant to exemplify the best in us, they are not the shining beacons of valiant righteousness that are needed if we want to condemn Burnham for ultimately wanting to try to prevent a war.

All out proof that DIS is working to be ‘Trek at its best?

ripper

The Officer that everyone thinks isn’t fit to wear the uniform is the one who wanted to set Ripper free. Burnham is the one who eventually forced Stamets to see the error of what they were doing, and rather than follow Saru’s orders to the letter, Stamets put himself in harms way to protect Ripper at the critical moment. In TRUE STAR TREK FASHION Human decency and empathy won out, and the ‘right’ thing was done for another living creature. This is exactly what ‘Trek is all about. Rather than spoon feeding it to us in moralistic episode like has been done 700+ times before, DIS takes the journey of showing us ALL sides of the issue, exploring it through a variety of characters in a longer form, but everything it’s doing is still ‘Trek to the core.

Sure, there are some things in DIS that I miss:

  • Warp Factors. JJ did away with these in the Kelvinverse and I was a little dismayed to see that we haven’t brought them back in DIS. Warp Drive is treated a little too much like Hyperdrive in this incarnation, but this quibble doesn’t hurt my enjoyment of the show.
  • Phasers are pulses rather than streams. I DO miss the streams. It would be nice to see that brought back, and maybe the planned ‘blending with TOS’ approach they say they plan to take will do this. Again, doesn’t hurt my enjoyment, I just kinda wish they did it the other way.

And some things that just don’t make much sense:

  • Seriously, who salvaged the Telescope off the Shenzou?
  • What was Landry’s plan? Protecting herself from a creature immune to phaser fire with a phaser rifle?
  • Corvan II processes 40% of the Federations dilithium but ISN’T behind a near impenetrable defensive line? Has no one played Star Trek: Ascension?
ascendancy
Such an awesome game…

Don’t look to closely at other ‘Trek episodes though, because things start to fall apart there if you examine them too closely as well:

  • Wait, the shuttlecraft Galileo is on it’s way to investigate the Murasaki Quasar? But a Quasar is a super-intense electromagnetic eruption from a blackhole at the centre of a distant galaxy (not our own) – they had a LONG trip ahead of them.
  • How do Kirk, Spock and McCoy get BACK through the Guardian of Forever?
  • The Excelsior encounters the subspace shockwave from Praxis’ collapse when they’re cataloguing gaseous anomalies, but when it comes time to take down Chang’s prototype Bird of Prey the Enterprise is the one with the cataloguing equipment?
  • So the transporter can just restore Dr. Pulaski’s old genetic pattern, but can never be used to do that again?
  • Quark and a bunch of Ferengi seriously manage to out-smart and defeat the Jem’Hadar AND the Vorta clone of Iggy Pop?
  • Janeway, what the fuck is a “dark matter asteroid?”

You see what I’m getting at.

I have to stop here, because this is so damn long already. But I feel my point is made to the few who stuck it out this far. DIS isn’t perfect, but it’s ‘Trek in every sense of the word, and I’m thrilled to have it to watch every week.

To all the Hater-bots out there who were just waiting to see what I had to dump on you, I assure you I won’t sign out leaving you disappointed:

scotts tears

QATAR SOLO! Where Conflict is King – Week 6

With deepest respects to Bill Waterson, but when that title image is literally the FIRST thing to come up when I Google ‘Conflict’ I can’t pass it up. (Not to worry Mr. Watterson, I’m quite certain I’m not making any money off this particular post – but I would happily accept the opportunity for someone to make a liar out of me…)

And yes todays title is a riff on the ‘STAR TREK: Discovery’ episode 4 title “Context is for Kings” but I will save what I have to say about DIS for my long awaited treatise on the new show to be published tomorrow. We’ll talk all about screenwriting again today, or at least as much as we can before I realize I’ve run out of things to say. Maybe we’ll even tie in as many Calvin & Hobbes shout-outs as we can.

filling space
Going out today to buy a clear plastic binder to use for turning in my new episode.

There’s always a bunch of lessons screenwriting books and online tutorials and quick-reference cheat-sheets want to teach you – and I’m going to repeat one of those now myself! Drama is conflict. Conflict is story. Story is what you do, so you’d better be comfortable mastering ‘conflict’ in your scenes if you want to be any good at this. “Well no shit dude, that’s like literally screenwriting 101.” you say to yourself as you stop reading my blog post. Fine, go ahead. Leave. Whatever. I don’t need you. I’m gonna write about ‘Trek tomorrow and get a million views and spend the rest of the week arguing with other nerds about whether or not Klingon’s shaving their heads is canon.

If you ARE still here though – well damn, now I gotta actually try and be insightful and entertaining all at the same time. Ooof. Okay – CONFLICT! Yes, drama is conflict, and conflict is what makes things interesting, otherwise the tales you tell are just people sitting around agreeing all the time and that’s not interesting at all (in this day and age it also seems a little like science fiction – people AGREEING with each other? I don’t even know what that looks like anymore…)

Across dramatic mediums there are plenty of ways to approach confict – since I’m a screenwriter we’re going to stick with that format today though, because I can speak with a touch of authority there.

write what you know
This is not at all unlike the revelation that led me to decide screenwriting was a better career path than ‘History Teacher’.

I’ve filled this space before with reference to my conversation with another writer regarding drama and screenplays, where this ubiquitous Sorkin quote always emerges:

“Any time you get two people in a room who disagree about anything, the time of day, there is a scene to be written…”

And really, who am I to disagree with A-Sork? I won’t – but my classic counter to that quote is one I’m hoping will show up in a screenwriting text book one day:

“Sure, but then you take those two people, you put them in a plane and set the plane on fire and now you have a movie.” – me (I hope)

Not here to disagree with an Oscar/Emmy winning writer, but I think we both have valid points. Let’s try a different anecdote to put things in perspective. Working on the show out here we spend a great deal of time ‘breaking’ the outlines – figuring out where we need to get our characters by the end of the episode, what beats  they need to hit and what developments we need explore in order to push the plot forward. Difficult as it sounds that’s pretty much the easy part. Once we have those basic outlines we start moving off ‘story-arcs’ and into ‘scene breakdowns’ where we figure out how each little bit proceeds into the next. Yes, essentially every TV writers room works like this, and there’s a reason for it…

garbage tv
Because as writer’s we’re lazy, lazy mofo’s…

This process lets you see where everything is progressing, and shines a light on the most important part of your story – the conflict.

“Okay, so in the outline we have our characters find the giant space-whale and climb in his mouth so they can travel to the glass palace on the moon. Check!” *

“Is that like it though? They just climb into the whale and head to the moon?”

“Yeah, that’s where we need them to be for the ACT V out. I mean dude, did you miss the part where I said IT’S A SPACE WHALE THAT FLIES TO THE MOON? Isn’t that ENOUGH for you, sinister task-master?”

“It just feels kind weak is all. Like can one of them NOT want to get into the whale, and then the others have to convince them? Maybe he’s afraid of whales because his Father used to read him ‘Moby Dick’ as a bedtime story while dressed like Pennywise?”

Boom! All of the sudden you’ve taken your boring ‘space whale’ development and made it more interesting by finding the conflict among characters. Even the most wicked-cool developments need some drama in order to be compelling, otherwise they become nothing more than cool concepts/images on screen, rather than an actual story.

happiness
See how Watterson just made conflict out of nothing? Genius.

It happens every time we reach a scene where the conclusion arrived at is: “This isn’t working.” – “We’ve got our characters to the glass moon palace now, and they go inside and kill the fat, blue moon-wookie, but it’s just not landing. It feels too easy.”

“Maybe someone wants to side with the fat, blue moon-wookie, or thinks they shouldn’t kill him because he’s the last fat, blue moon-wookie of his kind.” If it doesn’t feel right, or if people aren’t engaged, look for conflict.

I have a kick-ass low budget indiefilm screenplay I’m working on about two loser best friends who make an ill timed trip from Northern BC down to Vancouver to see their favourite DJ, and the complications that ensue when everything that CAN go wrong for them DOES. Guess what though? In all of my re-drafting out here I’ve discovered that when I’m not throwing obstacle after obstacle in front of this dynamic duo, the scenes I have of them interacting are a little flat. Sure they share rapid fire, witty dialogue back and forth like I’m trying ‘out-Smith’ Kevin Smith, but there’s nothing substantial which drives the plot between THEM. As fun as it would be to watch these two bounce witticisms about the meaning of life off each other, it makes for poor drama.

So I went back to my deepest influences to learn how you put sweet, dear best friends in constant conflict with each other:

snowball
Exhibit: Calvin

There is no question in anyone’s mind that Calvin & Hobbes are the very best of friends – yet they agree on almost nothing and spend most of their time antagonizing each other. This is how good drama NEEDS to work, and it’s something I’m paying more and more attention to.

There’s another example we can use:

I should really start using references that aren’t 30/40 yrs old…

Anyone who’s visited my site (Thanks to both of you) knows M*A*S*H still has a huge influence on me today. When talking about ‘conflict’ it’s rife with excellent examples of both good ways to achieve it, and places where they missed the mark. In the early seasons we had Hawkeye & Trapper, two nut-jobs doing their best to combat horror with comedy. Their interplay was hilarious, but they were very much ‘two peas in a pod’, both madmen on the brink. The primary conflict came from their interactions with the characters around them. Once Trapper left (to star in his own short lived TV show…) Dr. BJ Hunnicut arrived and the Hawkeye + sidekick dynamic changed. BJ was still an irreverant jokester for sure, but he was far more ‘moral’ and grounded than Trapper ever was.

What had been two frat boys making a mockery of those around them turned into a deeply satisfying comedy routine, with BJ playing the ‘straight man’ to Hawkeye’s antics. The difference in their characters, the conflict created by Hawkeye’s brand of nihilism-lite contrasted to BJ’s ‘family values’ elevated the drama and discourse of the show in a way the Hawkeye/Trapper dynamic never could. It was rare that Hawkeye & BJ were ever in direct opposition, but having two differing points of view strengthened the comedy and gave the show more to talk about.

There is strength in opposition. Our show is very ‘plot driven’ – there’s a great deal of exploring to be done in the mythology of the real world and the ‘otherworld’ where half the story takes place. It’s tempting to simply create situations where we move characters from one experience to the other, illustrating to the audience how life works in one world versus the next. If, however, that was ALL we did, take the audience by the hand on a tour of an unfamiliar world, they would change their Netflix choice pretty quickly because amazing vista’s and fascinating history work in a documentary, not a fast-paced action/drama. We are given a wealth of characters to work with and we need to find compelling reasons for them to disagree and oppose each other whenever possible.

Maybe we can try some other examples…

more angels
Don’t worry, I’m using it as a ‘bad’ example…

Everyone who knows me, knows that McG’s ‘Charlie’s Angels’ is in my top 3 favourite movies. I won’t waste space here explaining why (that fact isn’t relavent to the article) but I will use it to point out a failing in conflict. The movie itself has villains and antagonists, plenty of conflict, problems to solve and obstacles to overcome, but one thing it lacks is conflict among its three leads. When Natalie, Dylan & Alex are together, the story clips along but there isn’t much that’s exciting about what they do – they are always in agreement and super supportive of each other, so while they have an objective, such as try and beat the shit out of Crispin Glover, they don’t drive the drama themselves. I know they are a team, and a desire to depict three cooperative women who back each other up rather than feed the cheap stereotype of ‘back-stabbing bitches’ is a key element here, so it functions as it should, but it still leaves the story a little flat.

As opposed to this masterpiece:

baby driver more
If you haven’t seen it yet something is wrong with you.

Where even the characters who are on the same side, characters who are freakin’ FAMILY, have conflict. Baby lives with his deaf step-father (I think that’s how that works) and drives getaway to not only pay back his criminal debts but also support them, and they are STILL in conflict with each other. His step-father wants him to leave the life of crime, so much so that they argue (in ASL) about it and it drives a wedge between them, and these are two characters who love and care for each other. There is conflict between each character in this film; between crime boss Kevin Spacey and those criminals he employs, between Baby and Debra (in the form of Baby’s evasion and lies) even between Buddy and Darling, the psuedo-married couple who serve as muscle for Kevin Spacey.

Making one character or another an objectionable human being is a good start, but this isn’t something that can be sustained without decent character development. Remember the dramatic triangle in ‘LOST’? Jack vs Kate vs Sawyer –

jack kate sawyer
Look! They’re even forming a ‘triangle’…

 

Here were three characters, none of them ‘objectionable’ (Okay Sawyer was a charming prick in the beginning, but again that was the point) who very often stood in opposition to each other due to their motivations and backstories. For 3 years (at least, some of us poor saps stayed for all 6…) we were captivated by their interactions and machinations against each other while having a hard time picking who among them was the ‘right’ one. We couldn’t because the conflicts they shared were not clear cut matters of black & white. Forget ‘The Hatch’, ‘The Swan’, ‘The Looking Glass’ or ‘The Others’ – it was the characters on ‘LOST’ that kept us watching because every week we got to see how three different personalities would approach the same obstacle with a unique perspective. For a while, it was brilliant.

Okay seriously, you want something current? Fine:

 

narcos
I struggled for MINUTES trying to find an appropriate ‘All In the Family’, ‘Family Matters’ ‘The Brothers McCocaine’ joke and nothing was landing…

Netflix’ ‘Narcos’ does the same thing with incredible results, and I’ll use examples from season 3. (If you’re worried about spoilers, the show is based on history – Escobar isn’t in the third season, SHOCKER!) Taking cues from the ‘The Wire’ a decade previous ‘Narcos’ dramatizes actual events by adapting real life people into characters on a spectrum of gray, then forcing them to deal with each other. It’s easy to say that the Orejuela brothers are villains, ‘cuz sometimes they sure as shit act like it, but the DEA agents they have pursuing them are often depicted as being just as untrustworthy or incompetent as one might expect from a traditional foil. Furthermore the character Jorge Salcedo is depicted as one of the most moralistic of all the characters, and he’s the cartels head of security. The conflict doesn’t emerge just from the ‘good cops trying to catch bad guys’ angle – it is cultivated inside the Cali cartel itself, between the brothers, their muscle, their chief of security and their competing interests. If it was just about the cops trying to stop the drug lords the show would proceed along a rather stale A to B line, a documentary tour through facts that is as exciting to watch as ‘Ken Burns: The Drug War’… (Actually I would totally watch that – I want to hear Keith David’s smooth tones narrating a police statement about how the cartels removed peoples heads with chainsaws played over the slow pan across black & white photo’s…)

 

creative process
This explains what the other writers tend to think of my contributions…

Whenever you’re looking at your work and wondering why it doesn’t land, why people are falling asleep during your readings and/or on their phones instead, or you’ve been a victim of the ‘silent pass’ yet again after sending in your screenplay, go back in and look for conflict. If everything is clipping along fine and everyone is getting along, you have a problem. Your well oiled team of professionals needs to be pulled apart and set against each other in some way. Your uber-tight best of friends need to be set at odds by the simplest of factors. You don’t need to sow dischord where there is meant to be happiness, but you need to have a reason that two characters want different things, and let that build the drama that will make your work worth reading .

Moving the audience through your plot is one thing, and it’s important. Making them care about why they are there is the real trick. You can guide anyone from one place to another by the hand and show them pretty pictures along the way, but having them invest in the characters by forcing them to have an opinion about what one character is saying/doing in opposition to the other is the real trick. When an audience has to actively think about what is being presented to them because the characters are not all in agreeance, they are entertained. That’s your job after all, to entertain.

(* Bonus blog-points to anyone who can identify the source material for the moon whale, glass palace and fat, blue moon-wookie.)

 

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