Monday, November 24, 2008

One Writing Group, Two Writing Group

A brand spankin' new group!

The meeting on Saturday went swimmingly, I think. 7 of us showed up and discussed what we'd be looking for in a group and I think we're all on the same page. Two members are currently in the CFC Prime Time Writer's program, several others are in various stages of our writing careers, and one person is actually a seasoned writer and showrunner, so the group is quite varied in experience levels. Because I feel so strongly about this group, I've already quit the other.

We've decided that since this is a TV-writing group, it should be devoted to all things TV. So, no short films or features, just specs and spec pilots. We're meeting every 2 weeks on Saturdays. I'm not presenting for a few weeks but I'd better figure out soon what I want to write next - most likely a spec pilot.

Peter, one of the CFC students, gave me a list created by Meridian Artists in Toronto that lists all current TV shows and their speccability. It's 5 months old, but still pretty useful, and discusses why each show is or isn't good to spec. I should have read it first before trying Dexter. It's labelled "not a good show to spec" for the reason that it's hard to spec because of the season archs. Well yeah I see that now! I'm surprised that House and The Simpsons (for animation) are still considered good shows to spec. I'm thinking after my pilot, I'll write a True Blood. Just started watching it and it's great.

I don't think my excitement about True Blood carried through there. It's FUCKING AWESOME. Race relations between vampires and humans in the American South, and created by Alan Ball? Brilliant!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Writers Watching TV

Last night I went to my first Writer's Watching TV series, put on by the WGC. It was held at Camera on Queen W., in the screening room, and it was packed full. They screened two episodes of Flashpoint, the CTV/CBS production, and then afterwards had a discussion with the creators, Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis.

I really think I've been underestimating Canadian TV, because I admit I hadn't seen the show before and I thoroughly enjoyed both episodes. They've managed to infuse a procedural with a high degree of emotional weight and moral complexity. It was interesting to be in a room full of writers watching the show because the questions asked were much more focused than a regular crowd's would have been. I thought the event would be mostly aspiring writers, but in fact it seemed to be largely composed of established writers. Interesting then, that those that have already broken in find it educational to go and listen to their peers speak about the craft. Obviously then it's important for those of us not already part of the Guild, so I'm going to make an effort to go to these as often as I can.

Stephanie and Mark talked about switching from acting to writing and they solidified my intention to go and audition as an actor. I know being an actor helps you as a writer, but they brought up another point which was that when you are in auditions you are constantly reading scripts. Next to being a pro reader, that's probably the next best way to read the best and worst scripts out there.

On another note, I'm thinking about switching writing groups. My current group is composed entirely of screenwriters, and I'm the lone TV writer. As well, I'm not sure about the skill level or seriousness that my current group members possess. While some of them are more talented and more serious about becoming a pro than others, I feel like they are outweighed by the hobbyists. I need to find people that are as serious about it as I am - this is what I want to do for a career. And though screenwriting and TV writing are related, I think the two spheres use different skill sets and therefore I need to find a group that can help me grow as a TV writer. Saying all that, I may have found one. Through Ink Canada on Facebook (I knew it was good for something!) I've signed up with a few others to meet tomorrow and talk about possibly setting up a TV Writer's group. Exciting!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dinner and Criticism

I haven't actually started writing my next spec because for the last few weeks I've been sending out my short script, getting notes and re-writing it. The most help, even more than my writing group, was my cousin Kevin. He works in the industry as an assistant to a prominent Toronto producer, and so he reads a ton of scripts. I asked him to take a look at mine and we sat down for dinner the other night.

Kevin told me that there are two things he does when he gets a script: 1) he looks at the title and 2) he looks at the final page to see how long it is. That gives him an idea of whether or not he's going to enjoy reading it and sets his mood about it. Well, I didn't pass his litmus test as he told me that he didn't like my title, The Hunt, (it's boring) and the "short" script is too long. It's currently 17 pages, and he suggests that I cut it down to 10.

After that, he gives the script about 5 pages to hook him. If it doesn't, it goes directly into the recycling box. 5 pages? I thought it was 10. Fortunately I passed that test, as he said I kept him interested all the way through. He did say that the idea was really strong and original, and could make a great short film, but that it needed work. For example, my characters need to be fleshed out and made 3 dimensional. He also didn't like my opening and thought I revealed too much exposition through dialogue. However, he was crazy about my ending, so that's really good. So, I'm back to re-writing, but I have a definite idea of where I'm going.

Interestingly Kevin told about the difference between the Canadian and US relationships between screenwriters and production companies. With his production company (and apparently most Canadian companies) they don't option a script until they know it's ready. So they'll develop a relationship with a screenwriter, give them notes and guide them through re-writing, and months later when it's ready, they'll option the script. The idea is that we have more limited money in Canada so if they option a script for a year and it takes a year to re-write then they've wasted that money. However they still give the screenwriter money if he needs it, so I'm not entirely sure why they don't just option it (or how agents fit in here?). Apparently this doesn't always work out, which isn't that surprising. Kevin told me about a recent case where he was helping a screenwriter with development notes and over a year helped the writer to craft the story into something really good and got his bosses interested in it, however Kevin's prod co never optioned it. To complicate things, since the writer was an actor, he wanted to have it in his contract that he would also be an actor in the film. Kevin told me that they couldn't promise that - how can you bring on a director and then tell them that you've already casted his film? So the writer took the finished script to a different production company who optioned it immediately and would promise the writer that he'd be in it. Apparently this was a bad decision on the writer's part as Kevin's prod co is one of the biggest in T.O. and now holds a grudge against the writer as a writer and an actor.

Bringing this back to me (me me always me), I've realized that I probably shouldn't write a spec pilot just yet. I'm going to keep writing TV specs (of existing shows) until I can write any spec for any show in 2 months. Then I'll write my own pilot. So for my next spec I'm trying to decide between Terminator: SCC or Mad Men. I realize these are drastically different shows, and that Mad Men is definitely more difficult/complex to write, but if I can nail a Mad Men I think that would be more impressive than a Terminator. And I think I just answered my own question there.