John Ostrander: Double Your Pleasure

by John Ostrander

When I was younger I would go to double features at the movies all the time; sometimes, even a triple feature. It was good value for the money; two movies for the price of one. We also had what was called second run theaters. These were more the neighborhood, smallish theaters that would show films after they had been in the larger theaters. There were even venues that would show old movies and change the program daily. This was before tapes or CDs were out and often were the only way to see old movies on a big screen (as God and Cecil B. DeMille intended).

Often the films were chosen randomly but every once in a while you’d get someone booking the films who knew what they were doing. I first saw Casablanca in a double bill with Play It Again, Sam, written and starring but not directed by Woody Allen. It was at the old 400 Theater on Sheridan Road not far from Loyola University and the place was packed with deeply appreciative fans. They cheered at every appropriate point. It was the best introduction I could have asked for to what has become one of my fave films.

These days it’s hard to find a double bill anywhere unless you’re possibly in NYC so Mary and I sometimes put together our own from the films we own. This isn’t the same as binge watching; we’ve done that as well with Downton Abbey or the Harry Potter films. No, we try to figure out which seemingly unrelated films might fit well together.

For instance, we finally got around to seeing Hidden Figures, which starred Octavia Spencer and told the story of black female mathematicians in the early days of NASA. Great cast, terrific story about something of which I knew nothing. What movie would go well with it?

The Right Stuff of course came to mind, covering the same era and some of the same events from a very different perspective. However, to my mind the film 42 – the story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball — works even better. While they don’t cover exactly the same years, they do cover the same era when blacks were just starting to get some measure of equality and what it cost to do that.

When the live action version of Beauty and the Beast comes out on Blu-Ray, we may pair it with the animated version to compare and contrast. Or, possibly even better, pair either with Cocteau’s 1946 version.

I just watched Bull Durham again recently (it’s early in baseball season) and tried to think what would go well with it. Field of Dreams occurred to me, of course (another of my faves). Both films star Kevin Costner (why is Costner always better when he’s in films about sports of some kind?) and is about baseball but Field of Dreams is a little too mystical, I think. I’d rather go with Tin Cup. It’s about golf (which I largely detest) but it also stars Kevin Costner and is written (or co-written) and directed by Ron Shelton who also did Bull Durham. There is a similar sensibility in both films and a bawdy sense of humor.

I’d pair Disney’s Pinocchio with Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Both animators are at the top of their game in their respective eras and styles and there is a sense of the weird and wonderful as seen through the figure of a child (or a puppet who would be a child).

I might pair Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Both are tinged with darkness and loss. What would go with the first Rocky film (which is effective and touching and not bloated like the sequels)? I might pair it with Creed which could also be described as the last Rocky film. Seeing the character at the beginning and the end of his story arc could be very instructive.

Anyway, there’s a lot more and I‘m sure all of you can think of some. To me, it’s not just about naming two films but finding the connective tissue between them, an artistic DNA that suggests a relationship. That’s what makes a good double bill so interesting and so satisfying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the TV is calling my name. “Johhhhnnnn, Johhhhnnnnyyyy. . .!”

Okay, okay I’m coming. Keep your cathode ray tube on.

 

 


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Releasing Your Web Series into the Wild Web! – @Stareable

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 12
by Bri Castellini

You’ve done it. You’ve made a web series. Before we go any further, from the bottom of my soul, congratulations. Writing is hard enough, but you have gone above and beyond. No matter what happens, this is something to be proud of. And now, it’s time to show it to off.

I’m writing this with the assumption that you’re uploading your series one episode at a time to a site like YouTube of Vimeo. I prefer YouTube, because of its playlist functionality and its prominence as the go-to video site online, but whatever floats your boat[a][b]. There are distributors you could also reach out to, who host your content and potentially get you a higher return on investment with advertising, but for your first time, self-distributing is probably your best bet.

So what should your individual web series episode look like? I have a couple suggestions, all centered around the concept that people should know your videos are a part of a narrative series, not just a random vlog or one-off.

Video Title

There are a bunch of ways to indicate that your show is, in fact, a show, using only the title. For example, “Brains S1E1: Alison 101.” We have the title of the show, the season number, the episode number, and then the episode title. This information being available immediately to a potential viewer puts them in the mindset of watching a narrative show, not a compilation of cake decorating videos. It’s also more professional.

Thumbnail

People should also be able to tell from your thumbnail that this isn’t any ordinary video. There should be a consistency to the way in which you visually brand the series so that your playlists look organized and uniform. Below are some of my favorites:

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Description Box

Once again, consistency is key, so no matter what you decide to put in your video description boxes, make sure it’s the same every time. In general, I recommend the following structure:

1. A one to two sentence description of the episode
2. A link to the full playlist of episodes
3. Principal cast/crew credits
4. Music credits (if applicable)
5. Links to the show’s website and social media

Playlists

Always have a playlist, even when you only have one episode online. People are easily confused and having an easy way to organize the episodes in sequence will only ever help you out. A few notes, though:

1. Links to the same videos are different in and out of a playlist. A link to a video inside of a playlist will bring the viewer to the playlist, whereas a video outside of a playlist might not have the next episode in sequence show up as the automatic suggested next video.
2. If you want to embed a mid-season episode on a web page individually, don’t use the link of the video from the playlist. It will show up as the entire playlist, not the individual episode.
3. Even within a playlist, make sure you have an end screen that points people in the direction of the previous and next videos in the series, just in case someone finds an individual video rather than the full playlist.

Make sure to have a consistent uploading schedule, and stick to it. If you upload your first episode at 10 am on Monday, every subsequent episode should go live within an hour or that time. Also, when you post about new episodes on social media, don’t just post when the episodes go live, because different people get online at different times. You should post about new episodes at least three times on the days they’re released, and then remind people a few times more throughout the rest of the week. Views don’t just happen, especially when you’re starting out.

I only have one more column planned for you guys, about submitting to film festivals and the anxiety-inducing adventure that is networking. However, if you have questions about any of the columns I’ve written before, or if you think I’ve glossed over something, please let me know, and I’d be happy to keep writing for you all! Leave a comment on this post, or tweet @stareable and @TVWriter with suggestions or questions.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.

Attn. Film Fests – Enough is More than Enough

Nope, this isn’t a festival our whistleblower is talking about, just a lovely bit of generica. No liability here, folks. Move on…

by Hank Isaac

I have to begin this by saying, “I’m not an attorney.”

However, that does not indicate in any way that I can’t read, write, or think.

So I was invited to enter my web series pilot episode into an awards competition. All a-twitter, I started going through the online submission process. Everything was great until I got to their agreement/release. Which I actually read, by the way (more later on why you should always read those).

Oh, and out of some old-school and likely misguided sense of professional courtesy, I’m redacting names and all identifying marks about anything that isn’t me or mine. It won’t make any difference ’cause if you get where I was and read what I read, you’ll know anyway.

Threading off for a sec… Good screenwriters that we all are, we’re often admonished to not put WGA registration or Copyright info on our submitted works. It kind of makes sense. Like, we don’t walk into a meeting carrying an AR-15 and say, “I just carry this with me. No plans to use it.”

So, yeah, the reason not to put that stuff on the cover is, well, to just be one of the “cool kids.”

Really.

But as screenwriters, we’re not one of the cool kids. We’re really more like the wimpy kid on the playground and all the agents, managers, production companies, and competitions are the big bully who steals our lunch every day. If we complain to a grownup, we get beat up. If we resist, we get beat up. If we eat a humongous breakfast so we don’t actually need to bring a lunch, we get beat up. The endgame here is: We lose.

Okay, back.

So I’m reading through this release and then come to the most dangerous wording ever written. I won’t paste it in here, but it can be found in various degrees of virulence in releases everywhere. Now bear in mind, I’m talking only about competition entries, not submissions to production companies, agents, or managers. Just competitions.

And the wording begins by having me agree to allow them to look at the work (this happens to be a produced product, not a screenplay), to show it on their website, and to show it to other people.

So far, so good.

But then they want to be able to edit it. Not merely show an excerpt (which is indeed a form of “editing”) but actually edit the work. Without qualifying that statement, it can mean they could create an entirely different version of my work and show that around town instead.

Oh, it gets better.

Then, they want me to grant them what’s known as “derivative rights.” This is essentially the right to take my work and create a sequel or prequel. Or they could take a scene and make an entire franchise from it. Or they could make a spin-off using one or more of my characters. Pretty much anything, really.

Reminder: This is just an awards competition!

Why are they asking for all this? According to them (from a brief email exchange) this is “standard language.” So in what universe is this standard language for a competition entry? They say they need “protection.” Protection from what? They’re asking to be able to use my work however they wish. Somebody please explain the “protection” here.

“Well, we use this same language in all of [hugely famous name]’s productions.” Fine. This isn’t a production, it’s an awards competition. And you invited me.

Why would I ever give you permission to mess with my work? Isn’t that sort of like inviting your friends over for dinner then presenting them with a bill at the end of the evening?

A few years ago [even more famous filmmaker] lent his name to a competition. I heard they received over 7,500 feature film screenplay entries. The winner was to have his film made and I think he could direct it, too. So as I read through the twenty-five page release – yes, a twenty-five page ENTRY SUBMISSION release – I finally got to the eightieth paragraph and, guess what, nearly identical language was there. I won’t copy it here, but the upshot was that they would own not only my screenplay, but also all derivative works. So I was going to have to give up all rights to the story, the characters, and anything that would ever evolve from them anywhere, forever. EVEN IF I DIDN’T WIN! That was the kicker. It wasn’t just for the winner, it was for EVERY SINGLE ENTRY.

I wonder how many entrants actually read the release they signed?

Now if you’re thinking, “Geeze, this guy is really paranoid,” I’d like to add that every time I encounter language in a release like this, I run the text past my entertainment attorney. I ask him quite simply, “Am I reading this the way I think I am?” And every time, he comes back with, “Yes, you are.”

When I question the language as I did in these two instances, the response I always get back – after all the meaningless reasons – is, “This is the language our legal department created.” No it isn’t. It’s English. It evolved over many centuries. Your “legal department” is making sure you are in the superior position every step of the way. It’s not a release, it’s a sacrifice. And a human one at that.

“You don’t have to enter the competition,” is often the next line I hear.

“Yeah, I know. I won’t. But you know you’re essentially daring people to enter, then punching them in the gut when they do.”

“It’s standard language.”

“Uh, huh.”

They try to call it a contract but it’s not. A contract is supposed to benefit all parties. Releases like this do not. Then – and this is one of my favorite parts – they say, “Well that’s what it says, but that’s not what it means.”

Eh?

Listen, Bub, what it says is what it says. Push comes to shove, what it SAYS is what it MEANS. Wow! The nerve.

So, many people will tell you, “Man up. If you want to get your work out there, you have to agree to stuff like this.”

Really? How’s this, then, from my own recent (as in contemporary) experience:

One of my films, Lilac – Pilot Episode – “Getting the Point Across – has been an official selection in 53 international film festival and awards competitions with 37 awards for writing, directing, acting, cinematography, production design, costume design, original score, original song, and sound design, and 6 additional nominations – awards in the venues of WEB Series Pilot, WEB Series, TV Series, TV Series Pilot, and Short Form Dramatic Narrative. Seen in 87 countries, on 6 continents and in 9 different languages.

Never signed one single release like the ones I’ve described here.

The somewhat ironic part of all this is that the holders of power know that even when they misuse or misappropriate our work, we are truly powerless to do anything about it. “You can always sue us,” is their ongoing mantra. But the reality is: No we can’t. Anybody know how much it costs to mount a copyright infringement lawsuit? “Excuse me Mr. Lawyer, Sir, my name is David and there’s this really big guy… Goliath somebody-or-other… Well, let me tell you, he’s so big you can’t even see his head, it’s up there so high…”

And don’t think for a moment Goliath doesn’t know this. We’re dust and he’s got a bazillion vacuums just sitting on the shelf with nothing better to do.

And yet…

…he shoves a fifteen-thousand-word release in our faces, often with the excuse that they’ve “encountered problems in the past.”

Would you buy a car if, in the buying, you had to sign away all rights to assert a claim against the manufacturer if, say, the car blew up while it was being driven and killed your mom or your kids?

To all competitions: Look, I’m asserting this is my work. Mine. I’m the owner and I have the right to do with it what I wish. I give you permission to look at it, share it with others, evaluate it, exhibit it in its entirety or a partial contiguous clip, and to use some or all of it to help advertise your competition now and in the future (cause I’m a nice guy and I like your competition). But I do not give you the right to show it for purposes other than for your competition or to make other films based on my film or my characters or their story or sell or otherwise transfer the ability to do that to anyone else in the entire universe forever.

And if you ask for that, you’re just not going to get it.


Hank Isaac is an independent filmmaker in the Seattle, WA area. Not only does he know right from wrong and good from bad, he knows excellent from meh…because that’s what his work has proven to be over and over – excellent. Check him out on IMDB

Peggy Bechko Wants You to Throw Your Hero Under a Bus

 

by Peggy Bechko

Seriously writers… storytelling isn’t a bed of roses for you, the writer, or for your protagonist – you know, the hero or heroine of the thing.

Oh, wait, you’re telling me that actually it IS a bed of roses? That everything is going honkey-dory? Nice? Cool?

So you’re telling me your manuscript or movie script is b.o.r.i.n.g.

Don’t sit there and squirm and try to deny it. If you don’t know it already (and you should, actually) you don’t grab a reader, whether script reader or manuscript editor, by the eyeballs by painting a bucolic picture of joy and happiness. I mean, really, who wants to read about, or spend two hours in a theater watching a ‘nice’ guy or girl trying to decide on which outfit to wear to prom?

But wait, we’re all guilty of it, we like a character we’ve created. And, well (stub toe in dirt) it is your story after all, right?

Right! Of course you won’t be able to sell it until an alien kidnaps the prom queen or her boyfriend literally gets thrown under a bus by a rival or… well, you get it I hope.

Oh, and the prom queen? She needs to be a closet bitch who schemes to destroy her boyfriend’s future because she’s actually a psychopath and thinks it would be funny. And her boyfriend? Maybe he has a shaved head, multiple heavyweight earrings and a huge tattoo across his chest and is a member of a gang, but he’s unsure of his place with them.

Make your characters interesting and even if they’re vile jerks, they won’t be boring and people will want to follow them to find out what comes next. They’ll hang on every word, locked in with a desire to know what comes next.

But still you resist? Don’t want to ‘hurt’ your characters? Why would that be? Well, for most writers, a little bit of him or herself is in those characters, every one. Even the villains. So, poking at them is, in effect, poking at ourselves. BUT, the good news we can use our old wounds to create mesmerizing characters. And drawing from that well of painful experiences you, as the writer, make people feel. And when you make them feel you have them hooked.

So let’s circle back to the prom queen psychopath. Why is she where she is? What propelled her to this? Destruction for destruction’s sake. Can she be saved? Is she actually the villain? What do you need to pull up from your depths to make her a truly stunning character? Be brave.

Create situations people don’t expect. I watched the movie Life a while back. It was interesting until that tiny (spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it) space thing reared back and attacked. Then it was gripping. Where was this going? What issues were the crew members of the space station grappling with to bring their experience to bear on corralling this thing?

Get inside your characters.

Get inside yourself.

Be uncomfortable while using your own personal demons to pump extraordinary life into those characters. Do it. Push your characters. Throw them under a bus. The bar for writing is rising all the time. Gather your courage and reach higher.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

‘The Circle’ is a Master Class in How to NOT Make a Genre Film

by Gerry Conway

Some movies are a master class in how to make a good movie. Some are a master class in cinematography, or the use of soundtrack and score. Some are a master class in shot construction and editing. Some are a master class in screenwriting structure.

“The Circle” is a master class in how not to make a simple genre film.

Spoilers will follow, though if you find yourself surprised by anything in “The Circle,” you’re not really ready for a master class in film. You’re probably still stuck in Introduction to Cinema 101.

Here’s the genre “The Circle” belongs to:

A naive, callow twenty-something is hired for a too-good-to-be-true dream job at a secretive company led by a charismatic father figure and learns there’s a sinister reality behind the charming facade. Complications ensue as the twenty-something decides to expose the illegal doings of the firm, putting herself and those she loves at risk.

That’s a liberal summation of “The Circle” because the second sentence in that paragraph is only weakly implied in the film itself. It’s also, you might notice, a plot summary of the book and movie which exemplified, rather successfully, the genre “The Circle” is trying to fit into (a genre I call “Had I But Known”).

The film “The Circle” wants to be is “The Firm,” with Emma Watson in the part of naïve and callow young Tom Cruise, who discovers the secretive law firm he’s working for has one client: the Mob. A comparison of these two movies, working in the same genre with basically the same plot, provides us with a master class in how not to do a genre film.

Whatever you may think of its basic worth, as a piece of genre entertainment, “The Firm” delivers the goods. We’re introduced to a relatively likeable young lawyer, played by Tom Cruise, a recent graduate with tons of student debt, who’s offered a high-paying job at an obscure Southern law firm run by charismatic Gene Hackman. Tom and his lovely wife relocate to their new city, where they’re isolated from the support of old friends and family, and become both socially and economically dependent on Tom’s new job at The Firm. But all is not as it seems and soon Tom realizes that the supportive and enriching company to which he’s attached himself is actually a money-laundering and law-manipulating front for the Mob. Tom’s discovery puts his life and the life of his wife at risk. With pressure from outside and inside the Firm threatening Tom and his loved one, he must come up with a plan to expose the Firm while protecting himself and his wife from retaliation by the Mob and prosecution by the government. He works out a dangerous and elaborate plan to do so, ending in a climactic confrontation with the Firm’s charismatic leader in which Tom’s clever plan triumphs thanks to both his and his wife’s bravery and ingenuity.

It’s a basic pot-boiler plot, and for it to be successful only a handful of key ingredients are required, all of which “The Firm” provides:

1) A likeable, intelligent but naïve hero with a sympathetic goal.

2) An intriguing, not-all-what-he-seems villain.

3) A simple, easily explained crisis (the law firm you’re working for turns out to be a Mob front).

4) Jeopardy to the hero’s life and loved ones.

5) A clever plan developed by the hero to escape the villain’s clutches and turn the tables on the bad guys.

On the surface, “The Circle” also seems to contain all five ingredients– but only if you interpret each ingredient very very liberally.

1) A likeable, intelligent but naïve hero with a sympathetic goal:

Emma Watson plays May, a nondescript millennial in a dead end temp job. We’re supposed to find her sympathetic because anyone stuck in a dead end temp job is supposed to be sympathetic. But what, exactly, makes her likeable and intelligent? (Emma Watson is obviously likeable and projects intelligence, but I’m talking about the character she plays, May, not Emma Watson.) We know nothing about May’s goals or interests other than that she enjoys kayaking. She’s dismissive of the one non-family member who shows interest in her as a person, a childhood friend named Mercer. Her father has MS and May feels bad about that. As far as character development goes, that’s pretty much it. May is a nobody, not particularly distinguished in her ambitions or talents, not particularly likeable. She is, apparently, reasonably good at customer service. Yay for May. If she were played by anyone other than Emma Watson she’d be instantly forgettable. Tom Cruise’s character, on the other hand, is specific, if not particularly exciting: he’s a freshly minted lawyer with student debt and a lovely wife, well-educated and obviously smart, with ambitions and a goal. He may not be original but he has potential and character resources to draw upon. May is a customer support rep with a bad attitude toward one potential friend and a single hobby, kayaking. No potential, no character resources. When she discovers The Truth about her company she has no particular skill set to draw upon to accomplish point five (which will lead to the greatest failure of the film).

2) An intriguing, not-all-what-he-seems villain:

Tom Hanks plays Bailey, the Steve Jobs-esque charismatic leader of the Google-Facebook-Apple tech company “The Circle.” He’s presented as a socially forward-thinking tech entrepreneur whose main skill set, apparently, is the ability to give tendentious speeches to an audience of happy employees. At no time is he shown to be anything other than a lightweight con artist at worst. Despite the film’s heavy handed message that social media unchecked is Bad, and the assertion of one character that The Circle is up to something nefarious, and an unbelievable public display of callously poor judgment, Bailey never does anything on screen that can be described as villainous. He doesn’t threaten May’s life or the lives of her loved ones (in fact, the “villainous” tech that May comes to distrust actually saves her life, and the company’s free health care saves her family from financial ruin and provides her father with treatment for his MS). We are told (again, by a character other than May, who learns and does nothing of consequence on her own) that The Circle and its leaders are up to No Good, but exactly what that No Good consists of, other than exposing the illegal actions of a hostile Senator, we have no idea. As a villain, Tom Hanks’ Bailey is, like May, not much of anything.

3) A simple, easily explained crisis (the law firm you’re working for turns out to be a Mob front).

The Circle, the company May works for, is, on the surface, a typical successful and grandiose Silicon Valley tech firm. Its corporate culture is obnoxiously self-satisfied and myopic. Its employees are happy worker bees who believe they’re on a Mission. There’s a vaguely cult-like atmosphere. The employees are naïve, the bosses are manipulative and probably amoral, though that’s implied more than displayed. But that’s the surface reality. Underneath the surface, however, and providing the crisis that propels our hero to take her life in her hands and risk everything to expose The Truth, is the revelation that The Circle is– exactly what it appears to be on the surface: a typical successful and grandiose Silicon Valley tech firm. Wait, what? It isn’t making deals with authoritarian countries to control the citizenry through technology? Its master plan to undermine American democracy is to make it easier and a requirement that all citizens vote? Its worst crime is the enabling of amateur paparazzi leading to the accidental death of a possibly deranged young man? I may be missing something here, but while all of this is irresponsible and potentially dangerous, none of it is actually, ah, criminal. And none of it puts our heroine’s own life or the lives of her loved ones or her future happiness at risk. Which brings us to ingredient four…

4) Jeopardy to the hero’s life and loved ones.

So, once May “discovers” The Truth that The Circle is, in fact, exactly what it seems to be, what jeopardy does she face? What risk is she exposed to? What danger confronts her and her loved ones? In a tense scene, when Bailey and his apparent dark enforcer, Patton Oswalt (yep, Patton Oswalt is Bailey’s “menacing” corporate henchman) recognize that May is no longer a happy employee, they threaten her with– a better job, more money, more freedom. Or, heck, May can just keep doing what she’s doing. Whatever works best for her. We’re just here to see you get back on your feet. It’s a devastating and frightening confrontation. Yeah, no. But it’s completely on a par with the rest of the film. From one point of view, given the behavior of The Circle toward May, she’s the psychotic villain, not Bailey. There is literally no threat to May, no personal or family jeopardy, not even a hint of possible negative consequences if she decides to quit. She isn’t even reminded of legal issues regarding corporate NDAs, though in fact May doesn’t actually have any corporate secrets to expose, good, bad, or otherwise, because remember SHE’S JUST A CUSTOMER SERVICE REP. Which brings us to the last and most disastrous missing ingredient…

5) A clever plan developed by the hero to escape the villain’s clutches and turn the tables on the bad guys.

Before I get into this one, I’ll digress to share a comment a friend of mine once made about “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a movie that is the Exception That Proves The Rule of genre pictures. According to my friend, you can take Indiana Jones out of “Raiders” and the ending of the movie would be exactly the same. It’s true: if Indiana never became involved in the search for the Lost Ark, how would the ultimate outcome be different? The Nazis would have found the Ark, would have opened it as they did, and would have been consumed by the Wrath of God. Indiana’s involvement changed nothing. To be fair, he did save Marion Ravenwood’s life. She probably would have been killed if Indy hadn’t shown up in Tibet. So that’s something. And maybe the Ark wouldn’t have ended up stored in Area 51. Not that it’s ever mattered. But, essentially, Indiana Jones is irrelevant to the outcome of “Raiders,” and while it works in “Raiders” because everything else is so damned marvelous, normally a genre story in which the hero’s presence is irrelevant to the outcome is what we in the business call A Bad Thing.

May, in “The Circle,” is completely irrelevant to the outcome of the movie. Why? Because in fact she isn’t the real protagonist of the story– she’s at best a supporting character, at worst a minor cog in the arc of the actual protagonist, the man the movie should have been about, the only empowered character in the film who has a functional choice to make and an actual risk to take: Tyler.

Tyler? TYLER?

Who the hell is Tyler? Why haven’t we mentioned this guy before? What does he have to do with all this?

Tyler is a supporting character introduced toward the end of Act One, played by John Boyega in a total of three full scenes, a mysterious and close-mouthed “tech engineer” who for some unexplained reason decides to reveal the Deep Secrets of The Circle to customer rep May. The Deep Secret of The Circle is that they have a lot of underground space for server farms, i.e.: they have room to expand their data storage. Apparently this is a Bad Thing and she mustn’t tell anyone she knows. Oh, and by the way, Tyler is the tech engineer who designed the software/hardware/program/magic that makes The Circle a tech powerhouse. But these days he just wanders around the company campus getting upset by storage space and taking naïve young customer reps into his confidence. Tyler is an enigma. He’s also the Deus Ex Machina who gives May the opportunity to make a Big Speech at the end of the movie while he does the actual work of exposing the Bad Things the company is doing.

(What bad things, exactly? We never find out, but they must be Bad, because they upset Tyler, who’s also upset by storage space.)

Yes, that’s right: Tyler is the one who first discovers The Circle is doing Bad Things (they’re planning to fill storage space with data) and Tyler is the one who puts his cushy non-job at risk when he decides to expose those Bad Things, something he can do because he has the skill set necessary to take action to resolve the crisis. It isn’t even clear May’s own turn against The Circle has any influence on Tyler’s decision. In a scene obviously rewritten and re-voiced in post production, there’s an attempt to show that May persuaded Tyler to act, but it’s unconvincing. Tyler doesn’t need May to persuade him; he was previously trying to persuade her. Tyler acts for Tyler’s own reasons. May’s presence in the story is irrelevant. Through her own actions May has no fundamental impact on the story’s outcome. And unlike “Raiders,” there’s no compensating fun to be had in the rest of the film.

So, there you have it– a master class in how not to make a thriller in the Had I But Known genre. Wait till “The Circle” is on Netflix or Amazon Prime, then watch it back to back with “The Firm.” You’ll learn something.

Whether what you learn is worth the time invested is entirely up to you.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Dawn McElligott: RIVERDALE ‘REVISITED’ is RIVETING

by Dawn McElligott

In an age of rebooting vintage television, the development team for the new series RIVERDALE re-imagined a whole lot about Archie’s Comics for the CW network. Far from innocent adolescent hijinks, RIVERDALE has often been termed as ‘Archie Comics’ Meets Twin Peaks.’ What could have been a blasphemous mischaracterization of the milk shake slurping teenagers appears more as an updated twist on the beloved comic book characters.

The show’s development team includes Archie Comics’ Chief Creative Officer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who created the show and now serves as the Showrunner. Additionally, series hit-maker, Greg Berlanti, guides the show as executive producer along with Sarah Schechter and Jon Goldwater.

As of March 7, 2017 the series was renewed for a second season either in spite of or in light of weekly ratings hovering around 0.4, or slightly more than one million fans, the night it airs. During the week, its numbers improve to 0.8 considering delayed digital viewers bringing the audience to two million.

Various sources state that Warner Bros. TV has made a big development deal with Archie Comics, supplying another reason to stick with its sprouting new project. Surprisingly many viewers and critics have commented that Archie’s character is the least interesting in the show. He is a young man torn between school, a music career and helping his financially struggling father, Fred Andrews. Even an affair with young, hot Music Teacher, Miss Grundy, leaves him lackluster. Some have suggested that Archie Andrews is the cog in the wheel, holding together the town’s more fascinating folks.

The most engrossing character may well be its narrator, Jughead Jones. Jughead is a moody writer for the newspaper at Riverdale High School through the first 12 episodes. His father, FP Jones, is a train wreck of a man, heading up the Southside Serpents gang. Jughead’s moodiness clearly comes from his predictably disappointing family moments.

Jughead’s noteworthiness is due in part to choices made in the show’s development but may also spring from the actor, Cole Sprouse. In a February 2nd edition of Vulture.com, the actor described his interaction with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. ‘When I walked in I asked Roberto if I could read it [the narration} like Rod Serling, he was like ‘Uh, yeah, of course!’ I got a good idea of where we stood then. But when we shot the pilot, I really knew where we stood, in terms of the film noir elements and the darker tone. That’s when I knew this was a show I was really excited to do. Because I had just come off a Disney background.’

Twenty-four year-old Cole Sprouse had played Cody Martin in Disney’s two wildly successful series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY and THE SUITE LIFE ON DECK. Transitioning into an adult entertainer for the young man has been noticeably different from his female Disney counterparts, Britney Spears and Miley Ray Cyrus. Whereas Britney and Miley turned up their sexuality to divorce themselves from the wholesome Disney image, Sprouse agreed to play a character that is sometimes called ‘asexual.’ In the series Jughead dates Betty Cooper, but keeps a wary distance from her, realizing her unrequited love for Archie.

Sexuality is approached quite differently in RIVERDALE. The first episode starts with a redheaded teenage boy, Jason Blossom, driving with a redheaded teenage girl to the river. They appear to be lovers about to go canoeing. We learn later that they are Jason and his sister, Cheryl, (the cruelest girl in town) staging his death and disappearance. Incest and later, eugenics, appear as some of the more disturbing currents to muddy the waters of Riverdale.

When Jason’s dead body appears in the river, we start dredging Riverdale, the town with too many redheads, for answers. The parents in this sad place have about as many lurid secrets as their children. Putting together the parents’ promiscuity and the surplus of redheads, it’s not too surprising when hints are dropped that Archie might be at least a half-brother of Cheryl Blossom. His appearance in a football jersey at a game reminds Cheryl so much of her dead brother, it causes the mean girl to cry.

In the penultimate episode of the first season, Jason’s jacket is found. It yields no clues until Betty decides to search the pocket linings. Instead of putting the jacket on herself, she asks Archie to put it on for the search. Archie is literally wearing the mantle of dearly departed Jason, when a flash drive is found in its pocket linings, containing the video of his own father shooting him to death. Weird!

Women are painted with a fresh brush. Whereas, Veronica Lodge could have been another mean girl, she’s instead looking to make amends for her father’s illegal dealings. She’s still a clotheshorse and has enough sophistication to counter Cheryl Blossom, often beating her at her own game, much to Ms. Blossom’s chagrin.

Betty Cooper is a breath of fresh air. She’s the good little girl who seems to acquiesce at every turn, but by Episode 11 she warns her concern-trolling mother, ‘Alice Cooper,’ ‘Do not push me tonight, Mom, because I will push back.’ Betty wants to right the world’s wrongs, including the alienation of Jughead from his father.

Cheryl Blossom, whose forbearers made a fortune on maple syrup, is the only truly mean girl on the show but her cattiness is explained as a defense mechanism contrived for dealing with a family, no one would want, despite the material wealth. The audience pities Cheryl, FP Jones and especially, Jughead.

Every week this season, surprised viewers have been treated to revilement, pity, prose, exquisitely crafted zingers and plenty of tension, making the show as much of a guilty pleasure as the most tempting malted at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. My glass is raised in the hope that next season brings us even more of the same.


Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Philadelphia and other points East. You can learn more about her HERE

Marketing Your Web Series – @Stareable

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 11
by Bri Castellini

Think of the internet as a void. I know this imagery is controversial, since everyone knows the internet is a series of tubes, but bear with me because this is my column and you don’t have a choice.

So, the internet is a void. There are billions upon quadrillions of things already online, and on YouTube alone, 300 hours of video content are uploaded every minute. 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube a day. How are you, with your brand new unknown web series, going to get seen?
Social Media
Lucky you, the Stareable blog already has a few posts relating to social media, so I would definitely recommend them as resources. This one talks specifically about Twitter, while this one is a do/don’t list for all the major platforms.

If you’re not already familiar or comfortable with social media, I’d suggest only getting two accounts at first: Facebook and Twitter. Try to get the same username for both (and for all future show accounts) because branding is important and the easier it is to find you online, the more likely it is that you’ll get noticed in the void.

I suggest getting a Facebook page (not a personal page — a “fan page” specifically for your show) because that’s where you’ll get the most engagement from people you already know. Most people are already on Facebook, so it’s easier to reach them there.

I suggest Twitter because it’s where you’ll engage the most people who DON’T already know you. There’s a vibrant independent film and web series community on Twitter, and tapping into that will help you market your series immensely. Also, refer back to that Twitter blog I mentioned earlier because it highlights even more specifically why Twitter is a vital place to be a web series creator. So, what should you be posting to these new social media pages?

Promo images

Remember when I recommended you have someone in charge of taking on-set photos? This is when you’ll start using them — to promote and create hype for your show’s impending release! Social media is useless unless you have information and content to populate it, and people love seeing behind-the-scenes photos. At first, you can just post photos with a little bit of context (“actor Jimbob Thoresore learning a new stunt!”), but once you have a release date, you can also add a bit of text to the photos so when they’re shared, they’re also inherently spreading information about your release date and where they can find you online.

Trailer/teasers

Do you have enough material to make a trailer, or at least a teaser, for your series? Get on it, then! Nothing hypes people up for a new movie or show more than actually seeing it in action. If possible, make a few small teasers, all leading up to a full series trailer. People get excited by countdowns, so invent as many of them as you can.
Promo interviews

When big shots make movies and TV, they do press junkets, where the principal cast and crew are interviewed by a rotating barrage of journalists. When no one knows who you are, you have to do this yourself. Plus, a web series is an incredibly intimate viewing experience- — you and your cast and crew are part of the product you’re selling, and the more they know about you, the more inclined they are to be interested in what you have to say. For my show, I liked to personally interview my principal cast and crew, releasing them on a weekly basis leading up to the season premiere. That way, the growing audience got used to us releasing content for a few weeks before the actual show began. Plus, it allowed the audience to get to know us as people before watching us in the show, making the connection a little bit stronger.
IMDb

IMDb is laughably easy to submit your project to, but it’s also one of the clearest indications of legitimacy that you’re likely to get, especially before you even release the show. This Stareable blog post, which also offers other legitimacy-boosting ideas, walks you through how to make an IMDb page for your show.
Press Release

This may come as a surprise to you, but Stareable also has a post about creating and using a press release! Read it here. In the most basic terms, a press release is a one-page description of your project so that news outlets and blogs can write about you. Most sites won’t even consider interviewing you or writing about you unless you have a press release available. Then, send it to as many sites and news outlets as you can think about, focusing first on ones with a history of covering web series and then on ones you think your show would be relevant to (think about communities and themes you address).

Final thoughts on marketing your web series: it never ends. You thought a crowdfunding campaign was a full-time job? Once your series is online, it’s always online, and you never know what tweet or piece of press will rocket you towards fame and fortune. My web series premiered in 2015 and finished “airing” its second season in November 2016, and I’m still reaching out to podcasts and news outlets. It’s worth it, though, and the more of a splash you make, the more likely it is for a second season or a whole new show in the future.
Next week, all your hard work comes to a head as we talk RELEASE. I’ll cover everything from video thumbnails to crafting a consistent uploading schedule.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.