Cartoon: “Your Words”

yourwords1

This is just Part 1 of another Grant Snider cartoon masterpiece. Twelve more delightful panels await.

TV’s Dirty Secret: Your Agent Gets Money for Nothing

We love Gavin Palone because he’s so, so…right. For example:

agent_gets_money_for_nothing_illoby Gavin Palone

I’m all for increased efficiency when it comes to producing filmed entertainment. I embrace moving a production to where it can be made more cheaply, cutting a schedule to the minimum necessary to realize the project’s vision and doing away with decadent perks. I even understand why my fees and profit participations have been reduced, in line with other producers, over the years; and I accept that it was necessary for some of my friends to lose their jobs during the recent rounds of layoffs at major studios and networks. Pruning dead branches allows the tree to keep growing. But what I can’t abide is how those same companies, which ask us to make do with less and find it expedient to de-job those who have served them loyally for years, continue to tolerate the most deplorable cost associated with creating their product: the television package fee.

If you are unfamiliar with what packaging fees are, I’ll give you more details in a bit, but in short, it is a large upfront payment and an even larger back-end participation that talent agencies receive for doing exactly what they are supposed to do for the regular 10 percent commission they charge their clients.

I’m not writing this to bash the agencies. It isn’t any more their fault than it would be mine if I were to put my house up for sale at five times what it’s worth and someone acceded to my demand. Understandably, nobody is willing to overpay for my house, but close to 100 percent of broadcast network scripted TV shows generate package fees for talent agencies. And I promise you, the only reason those fees are paid is out of fear that the agency will kill a deal if its agents don’t get to wet their beaks, rather than because they did any extra work or “packaging.”

A good example of this dynamic was evident on a project I recently sold. I had break­fast with a couple of network executives and pitched them an idea, which they liked. I told them I wanted to work with a specific writer (with whom I did not discuss this idea before meeting with the executives). They didn’t know him, so I sent them his writing sample, which they enjoyed. The writer and I then pitched out a complete story. The executives officially bought the show. The writer then told his agents of the sale after it was sold. His agents then negotiated with the studio, which was a sister company of the network, and got him a deal with which he was happy. Then they asked for a package fee.

I told the network I would not go along with them getting a fee because they had nothing to do with the show. The writer also told his agents that it didn’t make sense for them to receive a package fee. His agent told him she would not close the deal — despite his direction to do so — without the agency getting its fee. He then asked his lawyer to close the deal and the lawyer also refused, probably not wanting to take on the agents.

I called the network and told the executives to just say it was “take it or leave it” and they’d have to close because the client wanted it closed. One of the executives told me that I’d have to work it out with the agency myself. I said that they weren’t my agents (I am not represented by an agency), so I had no way of influencing them. He said the network/studio would rather pay the fee, which could total millions of dollars in success, instead of jeopardizing its relationship with a major agency. In the end, the agency got its fee.

Read it all

Aaron Walker Sr.: Building a Universe… And a Website

CARGO3120CARGO 3120
The Making of a SciFy Franchise #20
by Aaron Walker Sr.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Story So Far starts HERE)

On our last blog I talked about my personal and creative priorities, and how sometimes we’re forced to shift focus from our passion to other things. But again, one must know when to shift that focus back. Life happens to everyone. We all have many things tugging at our time. But I know myself, the longer I stay away from a project, the harder it is for me to return. So I had to give myself a hard date as to when I would resume work on the comic.

Now my focus is back to Cargo 3120! Currently, our artist Lemelle is hard at work on the comic. The first couple of pages are complete, along with rough drafts of future pages. And they look awesome. While awaiting the art, we decided to release additional content designed to give our readers insight into Cargo’s backstory. So we started with the human controlled faction of the Cargo 3120 universe: “The Interstellar League of Planets” (a.k.a. The ISL).

The addition of this content meant the creation of a new page on our website as well. Daymond suggested we call the page: “Militant Forces and Factions”, which worked for me. In my opinion, one of the most challenging aspects of maintaining a website is making sure that the info is stored in a logical manner. Simply jamming everything on one page, or in a location that doesn’t make sense, is something that drives me crazy when exploring a website.

In our case we wanted to keep all backstory related info in the Universe Section of our website, so this is where I placed our new faction subpage. About a week later, we updated the new page with additional info about the ISL’s military component.

Writing the individual scripts for Cargo 3120 has been a fun experience, but I find myself most drawn to the universe building side of our project. The process of creating what we hope to be a vibrant universe filled with interesting characters and locations, is the aspect that I find most enjoyable. I guess I’ve always been into this sort of thing… What can I say? I’m a geek, and proud of it. Though universe building is not as tedious as it may sound, but I must say, it is a lot of work.

When you get a chance, check out the new Militant Forces and Factions page on our website. We plan to add additional faction info to this page as we move forward.

JOHN OSTRANDER’S WRITING CLASS: NEWTON’S FIRST LAW OF PLOT

by John Ostrander

Young_Bilbo_BagginsStory reveals character through action – the plot. There are two primary ways that the plot works: 1) the protagonist initiates the action or 2) the protagonist is thrust into a situation and the plot reveals what happens. In each case, the character’s defenses are stripped away as we get down to who they really are – not who they (or anyone else) think they are. What is important is not what the character says (or anybody else says about them); it’s what they do. It’s what theychoose to do. Their choices define them.

How do we determine what a given character will do in any given situation? It depends on their motivation. It’s not simply what theywant; it’s what they need. It’s not just what they desire; it‘s what theylust for. I may want a pizza, but that’s not strong enough a motivation to drive a story. It may not drive me; I have to get into the car and go pick it up. Or, worse, make my own. How much do I really want that pizza? Maybe it comes down to how good that pizza is. I’d probably go a long way for a deep dish pizza. Mmmmmm. Deep dish pizza! Where was I?

We want something that will drive a character to action and that’s not always easy. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts upon it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force. That’s true in a narrative as well. Maybe we’ll call it Newton’s first law of plot.

We all have a certain amount of inertia especially as we grow older. Change can be difficult. We have routine and that can be comforting. However, as Samuel Beckett noted in Waiting For Godot, “Habit can be a great deadener.” In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is apparently satisfied with his life – his home, his books, his tea, regular meals, and handkerchiefs. Then one day a wizard and a whole mess of dwarves invade his sanctum and, before he knows it, he finds himself running down a road, off on an adventure, forgetting his handkerchief.

Why? Because something has been stirred in his soul, the desire to see far off lands, to meet elves, to do the things he has read about in his books. It speaks to a side of him that he has not often indulged.

Bilbo wants to keep his life just as it is but he also wants to have an adventure. It’s not that he wants only the one thing. Like all of us, he has more than one desire and all are important to him. It is the decision that informs us about his character and, not coincidently, drives the story forward. It is the necessary decision for us but not the only one Bilbo could have made. The more difficult the choice, the more interesting the decision and the more it tells us about who this person is.

We rarely want one thing at a time and we often have to sort out conflicting wants and needs. The choices we make define us. As with us, so with the characters we write. What’s true in life should be true in our writing. If you want to write an interesting, and complex character, give them conflicting choices with no easy answers.

That’s the job.

Shonda Rimes on Writing, Loneliness & “Diversity”

The reigning empress of network primetime TV at her most inspiring:

shonda

by Soo Youn

Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign’s Los Angeles gala, Shonda Rhimes gave a thoughtful speech about writing, Shondaland, and the importance of creating diverse representations. She said that her writing basically boils down to one thing: loneliness. “I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I only ever write about one thing: being alone,” Rhimes said while accepting the organization’s Ally for Equality Award. “The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone, the attempts we make to find our person, to keep our person, to convince our person to not leave us alone, the joy of being with our person and thus no longer alone, the devastation of being left alone. The need to hear the words: You are not alone.”

Rhimes also talked about why she finds the term diversity limiting and prefers the word normalizing. “I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks,” she said. “Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary.”

Here are some of the best bits from her speech.

On how writing helped her cope with being a nerdy and “painfully shy” little girl, who was “often the only black girl in my class”:

I created friends. I named them and wrote every detail about them. I gave them stories and homes and families. I wrote about their parties and their dates and their friendships and their lives, and they were so real to me that …

You see, Shondaland, the imaginary land of Shonda, has existed since I was 11 years old. I built it in my mind as a place to hold my stories. A safe place. A space for my characters to exist, a space for me to exist. Until I could get the hell out of being a teenager and could run out into the world and be myself. Less isolated, less marginalized, less invisible in the eyes of my peers. Until I could find my people in the real world.

Read it all

There was Comedy Before 2005

Ken Levine knows cuz he sure wrote his fair share of it. As did a few others he’s very happy to remind us of:

4_bob-and-ray

by Ken Levine

As some of you know, I am in Andy Goldberg’s Improv Workshop on Wednesday nights. It’s always a blast. I did a scene a few weeks back with a fine improver (if there is such a word), John Content. It was a “Man on the Street” scene. You’ve seen those. Jimmy Kimmel does them frequently – an interview snags passersby and asks them various questions.

I was the interviewer and John was the “man on the street.” We got the preliminaries out of the way. I asked him his name and where he was from (New Orleans). The objective of this exercise is to force you to really create a “character.”

At that point John launched into a hilarious ridiculous story involving UFO abductions, space cows, God knows what. He got big laughs. But what made it funnier was that he delivered it all very matter-of-fact. As he was unspooling this absurd raft of bullshit a thought hit me. When he finally took a breath I interjected, “You’ve said some very interesting things. I don’t want to just slide over them, so let’s back up a bit. What part of New Orleans?”

This too got a big laugh.

John answered my question then launched into more outrageous nonsense, much to the delight of the audience.

I finally broke in with “What side of the street in New Orleans?” Again, a big yuck.

The bit worked for several reasons. First, John figured out immediately what I was doing and played along. And secondly, the construct was very funny. We all know interviewers who don’t listen.

But here’s the dirty little secret: I was essentially doing a Bob & Ray routine. Bob & Ray were a radio comedy team back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their sketches were uproarious. Always dry, always underplayed, but their premises were always absurd and their timing was impeccable. Although they did not do this exact bit, they did a lot of similar interviewer-guest sketches. Once John launched into his crazy UFO scenario I thought to myself, “This feels like a Bob & Ray sketch. What would Bob & Ray do?”

Read it all