Network Notes and the Reason They Exist

Speaking of an audience learning to love ambiguity, welcome to those who are, well, terrified of it, actually:

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My Latest Rant
by Ken Levine

Even though I know I’m just howling at the moon…

Most network notes come out of fear. Networks are deathly afraid viewers are going to tune out if they’re not captivated every second. Go four lines without a joke and networks believe half your audience will bail. Take a minute in your storytelling to breathe and have two characters just relate to each other and networks are certain it’s the same as the Great East Coast Blackout.

One thing the networks have always believed is that you must explain every moment and every little thing that is going on. And then, to be certain, explain it again. Today, more than ever, that is their mantra (because today, more than ever, they’re gripped with fear).

If a viewer is confused he will tune out, is their reasoning. But there is a difference between confusion and just asking the audience to work a little to figure out what is going on. If viewers are lost because they don’t know why a character is so upset or where a scene is taking place then I’m the first one to say that has to be addressed.

But does a character have to tell us he’s sad? Can’t we tell by his behavior? Does Jack Bauer have to remind Chloe six times that if she doesn’t get him the coordinates the Grand Canyon will blow up?

The bottom line is networks think we’re so stupid that we need to be spoon-fed every detail. It’s more than mildly insulting….

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How Many of You Use “Scrivener?”

Is this an article or an ad? Maybe a little bit of both. But whatever you want to call it, we at TVWriter™ found this article about the writing app Scrivener a true affirmation that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and that it can benefit not only techies but – writers:

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Scrivener Creator Keith Blount

by David Wells

Millions of people around the world are fans of their work – tuning into their television shows, poring over their novels and losing themselves in their plot lines.

Few fans of television, film or literature will, however, be aware that many of the greatest works by some of their best-loved authors and screenwriters were composed with the aid of a genius bit of creative computer kit developed by a former primary school teacher – from his spare room in Cornwall.

Now the content-generation, writing studio app called Scrivener, created by Keith Blount, is not only used by best-selling novelists, writers, authors, journalists, academics and other creatives all over the world – many of whom swear by its usefulness – but Scrivener has also grown into a global business with a turnover of around £2 million.

Many writers, including Neil Cross, who has used Scrivener as he was writing for the BBC show Spooks, Doctor Who and the hit TV series Luther starring Idris Elba as Detective John Luther – a show that last year pulled in five million viewers for the opening episode of the third series – say that Scrivener is such a useful tool in the creative process that they now wonder how they managed before without it.

 Other best-selling names in a long line-up of authors who sing the praises of Scrivener, and suggest their creativity has been aided by using it, include writer Michael Marshall Smith, author of One of Us and Only Forward, mystery novel writer and journalist David Hewson, who wrote the popular Nic Costa series of books, and Marie Phillips, author of Gods Behaving Badly.

Author Michael Marshall Smith whose 2007 novel The Intruders has now been adapted for an upcoming television series on BBC America called Intruders, was so impressed by how he has been able to work with the software that he offered a testimonial to the app, saying: “Scrivener is where I live. I’m planning the next novel, two screenplays and a couple of short stories with it and it’s amazing how fluid the software makes the process. I genuinely think this is the biggest software advance for writers since the word processor.”

Keith has spent the best part of the last decade building up his company Literature and Latte on the back of sales of Scrivener – which sells from about £25 upwards and has now sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide and has a long list of writers offering their own testimonials to the app on the company webpage.

Despite that, Keith said: “I still get excited when I hear of another author using Scrivener – every time. It’s great to hear how it is being used and it is still exciting every time I hear of a new author or writer saying they’ve used it to create a novel or something like that.”

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Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 10/21/14

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Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Now hear this: Richard Preston ‘s ’90s era best-seller about ebola, THE HOT ZONE, is being rebooted (it was also a ’90s feature film) into a Fox TV series to be directed by Ridley Scott, who, it seems to der munchen has finally gone completely over the edge on his march to showbiz whoredom. (Fortunately for members of the Writers Guild of America everywhere, no writer has been named, so the Riddler gets to take all the flak from this bullshit move alone.)
  • David S. Goyer (writer-producer of every superhero film you’ve hated) is adapting Peter Straub‘s book SHADOWLAND as what NBC describes as an “event series.” (Yeppers, it’ll be an event, all right. The biggest thud of the season. And when it happens, remember, you heard it ra-cheer on TVWriter™ from yer friendly neighborhood munch dood.)
  • Casey Sherman (THE FINEST HOURS) is developing LIFE IN THE SHADOWS, some whacked-out FBI-witness protection abomination that the production company, Landscape Entertainment, hopes to sell to some network somewhere, some time. (Sorry, sorry, this really is no news at all. In my defense, all I can say is Landscape’s PR person made me cover this. Promised me a big scoop on their next big project, so how could a mere muncher resist?)
  • The Dawson Brothers (Hey, they’re a big deal writing trio at the BBC) are writing the pilot for NBC’s THE SPENCER TAPES, a comedy about “a…college professor who rediscovers his old camcorder tapes and realizes that life hasn’t turned out the way he’d hoped.” (And if that doesn’t sound funny enough, consider this: The professor’s all of 30 years old, so, yeah, of course his life and chances are already over cuz…30, y’know?)

That’s it for now. Write in and tell munchilito what you’ve sold today. TVWriter™ can’t wait to brag to all your friends. (And, more importantly, enemies. Hehehe….)

Peggy Bechko: Rewriting is Hell

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by Peggy Bechko

Rewriting is hell, right?

Nope. Not when you can goose the effectiveness of your writing and create a really outstanding script or manuscript.

Have you heard from a producer, “there’s nothing wrong with your script, it just needs a rewrite.”?

Have you heard from an editor, “it’s a great story, it just needs some rewriting.”

Did your heart lurch, your stomach drop and your mind rail, “I want it the way it is!”?

I mean here it is, you thought the script or the manuscript was great just as written, you thought it was ready to submit and someone was going to be just as excited about it as you were when you finished that last touch-up edit.

When you think about it there are about three categories of writing and it applies to most areas of writing – especially movie scripts and manuscripts.

Worst = not on its best day will it ever have a chance of acceptance anywhere. Trash it. The producer/editor already did. Moving on…

Middle of the Road = pretty good and could be fantastic with the right rewrite.

Best = wow, outstanding! Ready to go and everybody is going to want it. A bidding war is in your future.

Admittedly a whole lot more scripts and manuscripts fall into the middle category than the best – the worst is probably where a large majority falls because (and I’m not trying to be unkind) it seems like a huge number of folks who’ve never taken the time to study any craft of writing think they can simply chuck out a story and everyone will be scrambling to grab it. Nope, not true.

Now, if you’re a serious writer and you hear from the atmosphere, “you’ve got a great story here, it just needs a rewrite,” don’t despair. You’re actually miles ahead of most of your competition. Success is within grasp.

Here’s the thing, most of us writers have the instinct to protect our work like a mother tiger protects her cub, claws out and fangs bared. But wait a minute, what if we would think more like explorers than fanged terrors? What if we stopped, stepped back and realized suggestions can make the work better? Has it happened to you that someone said something had to change and you reared back in horror, knee-jerked your way to disaster since you refused to change anything and the editor/producer just walked away?

Hmmm, probably not the result you wanted or anticipated. So let’s get our heads around the creative process, the need for engaging and considering changes to our work.

First of all, before you take off on any rewrite remember you have a computer hard drive. You can and should save your original version and back it up. That draft will be there. You can always go back to it.

Now that you’ve copied it again you’re totally free! You can rip it up, pull out chunks, insert new ones, take a whole new direction. You can follow suggestions and see where they lead. You can initiate new ideas based on those suggestions. The world is your oyster you can unleash your wildest creativity and that original draft is tucked away… just in case.

Okay, the next question. Do you really want to rabidly defend all those little tiny details? Cut to the core of your story, the heart of the manuscript or screen script you’ve written. Remember how cooperation can move your career forward. Of course you want to keep the heart of your story pumping, but writing is at its ‘heart’ a non-linear process. It’s also a cooperative process – unless you self-publish and do everything yourself. Otherwise you’re going to have editors involved, producers, even possibly actors. Learn to be flexible and you’ll get much further and be much happier. Only stand firm on the heart of the matter.

Look for the value in the comments and notes you’re given on your writing. Think about it (okay, privately fly off the handle for a while if you like, then get to it) and use it. What if, instead of being threatened by editorial comment or script notes you turned it around and told yourself that instead of interfering, the person making the suggestions was making an effort to help you make that book or script great, fantastic even?

Ponder this. If you change something in the story near the end, whether book or script, chances are you’re going to think of several additions/changes/deletions that need to happen earlier on for that final change to work. In scripts it’s called set-up and pay-off. In books it’s foreshadowing and climax.

Granted, you need to be selective in the suggestions you accept and how you launch into changes of your writing. That’s your prerogative and it’s important. Long long ago in that far and distant time I had an editor suggest changes and wanted me to remove a character from a manuscript. The character was small but pivotal. I did the rewrite, did the cut in length and left the character in. The book ended up much better, the editor didn’t even notice the character wasn’t removed, everybody was happy and the book was published – by Doubleday. Sometimes suggestions are way the hell out in center field – far beyond the outfield and you have to reel things in a bit to find the seed of brilliance, or uncover a problem that will make your writing great.

Focus on what will make your script or manuscript great. Brainstorm. Let your characters speak to you. Always ask yourself, am I making it better?


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

The Art of the Villain Backstory (and Why Dracula Untold Fails)

Time now for a perceptive look at both a new feature film and an old feature film and TV writing problem. Yes, even we egomaniacs at TVWriter™ are suckers for good analysis and advice:

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by Petra Halbur

Villainous backstories are an… imprecise science. When done well they can imbue a previously simplistic baddie with depth and challenge conventional morality. When done poorly, however, they are frustrating, self-pitying, and utterly off the mark. Unfortunately (though not surprisingly), Dracula Untoldfalls into the latter category. To be fair, as a film it’s not entirely awful. It contains some interesting visuals, great sound editing, and a decent score byGame of Thrones‘ Ramin Djawadi. However, as a villain origin story, which it purports itself to be, Dracula Untold is an absolute failure.

Spoilers for Dracula Untold below.

The fundamental problem with Dracula Untold is that it shies away from ever making its protagonist, Vlad Tepes III, do something truly bad. It even incorporates Vlad’s legacy as “Vlad the Impaler” yet still manages to characterize him as a squeaky clean Marty Stu, which I honestly didn’t think was possible. Vlad never kills or hurts anyone the audience cares about, apart from his sexy lamp wife who begs him to drink her blood just before she dies anyways. For all the movie’s talk of “monsters,” Vlad never becomes one. Even when he declares himself “Dracula, the son of the devil” (an appreciated historical reference), he’s a monster in name only as he still hasn’t compromised any of his morals. Despite the score’s best efforts, there’s no menace at the end when Vlad introduces himself to Mina in the 21st century because Vlad still hasn’t developed into a character the audience fears. If anything, the Stoker reference only draws attention to the disconnect between Vlad and the iconic Victorian vampire he was supposed to have become.

Of course, Dracula Untold is not alone in this failure. The reluctance to challenge the audience is a reoccurring pitfall in villainous origin tales. Writers try to play it safe, an approach that consistently fails because villain backstories are fundamentally paradoxical: they are stories that contextualize and evoke sympathy for characters whom we are supposed to oppose. If it’s not challenging, you’re writing it wrong. Yet so often the pre-villainy protagonist is driven to act against societal or moral norms for some greater good that plays no part in whatever motivates him or her as a fully-fledged baddie. It’s as though once the character crosses the villainous threshold his or her complex and well-intentioned nature is erased and replaced with a brand new personality.

There are many cases of this, but in my mind there is no example more egregious than Morgana from BBC’s Merlin. She started out as a Demona-esque antiheroine, passionate about overturning Uther Pendragon’s unjust laws and protecting those with magic (as did most of the villains, actually). Yet by the finale she had devolved into a power hungry tyrant and Hot Topicpatron bent on ruling Camelot and willing to kill all manner of magical folk in order to do so. I imagine, somewhere around season 3, the writers realized that they had made their destined baddie far more compelling than their heroes and panicked. So they threw in a twist that Morgana is Pendragon’s illegitimate daughter, with as much right to rule Camelot as Jon Snow has of being Lord of Winterfell. This drives Morgana to pursue the throne with a ruthlessness and disregard for human life that comes completely out of nowhere.

Similarly, Hannibal Rising purports that Hannibal Lector began eating people during his mission to avenge his murdered (and devoured) sister. We are then left to conclude that, much like the crocodile from Peter Pan, Hannibal has acquired such a taste for human meat by the end that he… just… keeps… eating people?

And then there’s Anakin Skywalker, who turns to the Dark Side in an attempt to save his wife’s life. He betrays the Jedi Order and kills Younglings for an understandable reason based on a moral compass that has completely disintegrated by the beginning of A New Hope a few decades later.

Why does this keep happening?

Well, behind these botched villain arcs I sense a basic underestimation of the audience. “There’s critical acclaim to be earned from giving villains depth, but people can’t sympathize with a character that’s genuinely twisted or oppose a character with remnants of humanity.” So goes the logic. Yet our society is increasingly comfortable with ambiguity.

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TV’s Remake Craze: Who Gets the Money and Owns the Rights?

The Hollywood Reporter is nothing if not practical. Which gives it a special place in the uber-idealistic world of Hollywood.

Okay, okay! We kid! But as past, present, and future stakeholder in the re-boot rights issue, we find this a potentially very valuable discussion:

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by Lesley Goldberg

Hollywood’s reboot and remake frenzy is spreading from film to TV.

To break through in a competitive scripted landscape, networks are turning to familiar feature-film material with new fervor. Fox is reviving Big and Monster-in-Law, CBS is tackling Rush Hour and In Good Company, CW is plotting The Illusionist, and Showtime and MGM TV are rebooting In the Heat of the Night, to name a few. But the rush to remake is requiring studio lawyers to sort out rights, and not everybody — including some of the original creators — is excited.

In early October, Say Anything‘s Cameron Croweappeared to quash NBC’s plans to adapt his 1989 romantic comedy, leaving many to wonder whether he had that power. The answer is complicated. Although Crowe, like most screenplay writers, probably doesn’t own remake rights, his mere objection — “[John Cusack, Ione Skye] and I have no involvement … except in trying to stop it,” tweeted Crowe — was enough to give producer 20th Century Fox TV cold feet about moving forward. Whether the families of the late John Hughes and John Candy, who expressed concerns about ABC’s planned Uncle Buckremake, will have the same kind of influence, remains unclear.

Studios typically reach out for a creator’s blessing when adapting a film into a TV series, even if consent usually isn’t required. And it’s not uncommon for original producers to be involved, as was the case with FX’s Emmy-winning Fargo, which Joel and Ethan Coen executive produced.

When it comes to a TV show reboot, however, support from creators often is necessary thanks to a WGA concept called “separated rights,” which allows TV creators to participate in spinoffs and remakes. Exceptions exist, but typically original writers will receive “Created By” or “Based on Characters Created By” credit as well as payments. Original producers also can be included creatively, as with Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival and Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World.

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