Cartoon: ‘Problem Solving’

For some of us, thinking is more concrete than for others. Provided that you think of the act of writing is concrete – which some jocks, cheerleaders, and coaches failed to appreciate back in this TVWriter™ minion’s high school days.

But that’s ancient history. Our favorite cartoonist, Grant Snider, exists in the here and now, and so does his latest bit o’brilliance:

 

There’s lots more just like this (well not exactly, but you know what we mean, hey?) in Grant’s new book, HERE

Oh, and don’t forget to buy it HERE

And visit Grant’s website HERE

And Now for the Drawbacks to Crowdfunding (& Other Indie Pitfalls)

Long time TVWriter™ visitors know that we are Big Believers in crowdfunding as a terrific way to get your work and yourself before an audience. And, yeppers, we recommend that you use the search bar in the righthand column of each and every post on this site to see what we’ve said in the past.

But even we, as crowdfunding’s staunchest advocates, know very well that it isn’t perfect. Recently we came across an article that points out several of the biggest problems indie film (and TV) makers face in the current world, and guess what the writer says is Number One?

Knowledge is power. We would be remiss if we didn’t share this…and the rest of Joe McClean’s cautions. Brace yourselves:

5 Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know: Beware of Crowdfunding and Free Tickets for Grandma (Guest Blog)
by Joe McClean

I’m an indie filmmaker who’s made two low-budget features in the last four years: “Life Tracker” starring Matt Dallas in 2013 an the upcoming “The Drama Club.” 

Along the way, I’ve learned some things that I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. Here are some of the biggest lessons:

1. Crowdfunding can hurt you.

This isn’t a cow that keeps giving milk. You basically have one shot, so make sure you choose wisely, if you choose to do it at all.

Unless you have an above-the-line attachment capable of generating press and who can point strangers back to your campaign, you’re making a mistake. No attachment? Just you and some buddies? Fine, but the only people who will give to your campaign will be those connected to you already. If Grandma’s going to give you a thousand bucks, she should just give it to you. Don’t pay the crowdfunding site’s fee (around 7 percent on average) or the fee tacked on for using plastic. If you go through a site, you just lost $60 to $100 of Grandma’s money before you even started shooting — all because you needed a link from a company to work up the nerve to ask her.

 If you’re a filmmaker without the nerve to ask someone for money, you better hope you find a good producer. Think of those people you’re asking to work for free — that 7 perecent could go to feeding them better on set! Yum. Craft services.

2. Cast recognizable actors.

OK, you’ve probably heard this one before, but think there’s no way to do it with your lack of funds. I’m telling you to do all that you can to get some familiar faces on board, no matter your budget.

I made an indie feature called “Life Tracker” for $150,000. A good chunk of that money came in because an investor loved one of my leads, Matt Dallas, who starred on an ABC Family show. Others gave money because a sports star invested. My great aunt genuinely thought I’d “made it” when she saw Jay Thomas in a small scene in my movie. The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, ComingSoon, MSN and others gave us press before, during and after production. Getty Images showed up to our self-thrown premiere party because Matt Dallas was there.

Fast forward to my next feature, which had no recognizable faces, and no one of note kicked in money. We were able to raise less than half of my first film’s budget and the press won’t touch us. Well, that’s a lie — the L.A. Times came to see the movie when we four-walled for a week…and hated it. So I guess there’s that.

Read it all at TheWrap

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

Diana Vacc sees “Great News”

“Breakdown” is right. GREAT NEWS represents how broken network TV really is. You’ll never see anything this bad on FX.

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

At the end of April, GREAT NEWS, a new sitcom produced by Tina Fey and created by Tracey Wigfield, a writer from Ms. Fey’s 30 ROCK, premiered on NBC. Like its predecessor, GREAT NEWS is also an exaggerated behind the scenes look at how TV works. This time around, however, the series centers around a news producer and her relationship with her mother, who unexpectedly begins working with her as an intern.

THE GOOD:

• Being a fan of 30 Rock and The Office, I was immediately hooked by this show’s setting and trailer. I can’t help it. I gravitate towards workplace comedies. They speak to me.

• Unfortunately, the setting is the only good thing about the show. Considering the current political climate and the kind of comedy we’ve come to expect when we hear the word “newsroom,” (I’m thinking of the ancient but hilarious Mary Tyler Moore Show as well as the more recent The Newsroom), I expected much more from Great News than it gives us.

THE BAD:

• Starting with the central relationship (the typical overbearing mother and the daughter who freaks out every time mom gets close) the writing here tries much too hard to be funny.  In the first episode, for example, the scene that sets up the basic premise, in which the mother, Carol (Andrea Martin) decides to intern with her daughter, Katie (Briga Heelan), comes straight out of the My Big Fat Greek Wedding playbook in terms of the comedy beats within the scene as well as the characters’ personalities.

• While watching the first two episodes (in their  entirety, for which I am thinking of awarding myself a medal) instead of laughing I just became more and more frustrated because I wanted so desperately to see Katie (Heelan) become her own person and tell her infuriating mother to STFU!

• The news anchor people portrayed by Nicole Ritchie and John Michael Higgins are the same stereotypes we’ve seen on every newsroom-centric show as well as in every such film – the stupid blonde girl and the entitled mature experienced journalist who expects everyone to cater to him.

THE REST:

Great News could only be called great in a culture where greatness is a notch or two below “mediocre.” It completely fails at serving it setting as well as creating laughs. As much as I want to like it, the show just doesn’t compare to my favorite comedies, The Office and 30 Rock. It hurts me to say this, but I can’t not recommend that anyone watch this show.

EDITED TO ADD: Just as I finished typing this review I learned that Great News, a show I never expected to even make it through this season, has already been renewed for a second one. Tina Fey’s production company must have some sweet deal!

 


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and one of the finest people we know. Find out more about her HERE

Dan Harmon on Overcoming Writer’s Block

The creator of Community and co-creator of Rick and Morty was on Reddit last week, and for the first time that we here at TVWriter™ are aware of he actually made a public statement that was true/valid without being annoying/controversial.

New writers need all the help and advice they can get on the subject of writer’s block. (Experienced writers not so much because they have an inspirational ace in the hole known as “the mortgage is due!”) So without stalling any longer, here’s what dude said:

My best advice about writer’s block is: the reason you’re having a hard time writing is because of a conflict between the GOAL of writing well and the FEAR of writing badly. By default, our instinct is to conquer the fear, but our feelings are much, much, less within our control than the goals we set, and since it’s the conflict BETWEEN the two forces blocking you, if you simply change your goal from “writing well” to “writing badly,” you will be a veritable fucking fountain of material, because guess what, man, we don’t like to admit it, because we’re raised to think lack of confidence is synonymous with paralysis, but, let’s just be honest with ourselves and each other: we can only hope to be good writers. We can only ever hope and wish that will ever happen, that’s a bird in the bush. The one in the hand is: we suck. We are terrified we suck, and that terror is oppressive and pervasive because we can VERY WELL see the possibility that we suck. We are well acquainted with it. We know how we suck like the backs of our shitty, untalented hands. We could write a fucking book on how bad a book would be if we just wrote one instead of sitting at a desk scratching our dumb heads trying to figure out how, by some miracle, the next thing we type is going to be brilliant. It isn’t going to be brilliant. You stink. Prove it. It will go faster. And then, after you write something incredibly shitty in about six hours, it’s no problem making it better in passes, because in addition to being absolutely untalented, you are also a mean, petty CRITIC. You know how you suck and you know how everything sucks and when you see something that sucks, you know exactly how to fix it, because you’re an asshole. So that is my advice about getting unblocked. Switch from team “I will one day write something good” to team “I have no choice but to write a piece of shit” and then take off your “bad writer” hat and replace it with a “petty critic” hat and go to town on that poor hack’s draft and that’s your second draft. Fifteen drafts later, or whenever someone paying you starts yelling at you, who knows, maybe the piece of shit will be good enough or maybe everyone in the world will turn out to be so hopelessly stupid that they think bad things are good and in any case, you get to spend so much less time at a keyboard and so much more at a bar where you really belong because medicine because childhood trauma because the Supreme Court didn’t make abortion an option until your unwanted ass was in its third trimester. Happy hunting and pecking!

If you’re into Reddit but didn’t know about this Reddit AMA, check out the whole  thing HERE

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.

Larry Brody’s Poetry: ‘A Will Of Its Own’

by Larry Brody

NOTE FROM LB

The following poem, which I just reread for the first time in almost as many years as I’d lived when I wrote it, surprises me. I don’t want to do spoilers (God forbid!), but when these words first came poring out of me I read them as meaning something completely different from what they mean to me now. Wondering – Who was I then? Who am I now?


A Will Of Its Own

Having read Don Quixote, and the works of Nietzsche,

And Sartre, having seen Long Day’s Journey Into Night,

And the paintings of Picasso and Miro,

I became convinced at eighteen that my

Purpose was the search. It wasn’t the

Discovery of life’s meaning that meant a

Damn thing, but rather the hunt. This was my

Credo, my beacon, my purpose, and for

Thirty years I kept it before my dimming eyes.

Sometimes I lost my way, and several times

My self, but the search continued

Regardless, as though with a will of

Its own.

A will of its own.

A will of its own.

Now Don Quixote has lost its power over me,

And Nietzsche and Sartre appear far away.

Eugene O’Neil’s dramatic voice seems both

Stilted and shrill, and I can’t separate the

Imitators from Picasso and Miro. Yet the search

Goes on, even without strong conviction, my

Will having become my

Must.

Few lessons are as painful as those that

Teach that freedom has been not true.

For years I roamed under the illusion

Of wanting, but with the desire gone still I have

The need.

Credo, beacon, and purpose have left me,

But the act continues, and my legs grow

As weak as my belief. The search

For something I no longer believe in

Continues, with

A will of its own.

A will of its own.

It continues with a will of its own.


Larry Brody is the head dood at TVWriter™. He is posting at least one poem a week here at TVWriter™ because, as the Navajo Dog herself once pointed out, “Art has to be free. If you create it for money, you lose your vision, and yourself.” She said it shorter, though, with just a snort.