The craft of writing
for games, TV and movies,
by a working writer
The Crafty Game, TV, and Screenwriting Blog
... with forays into
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Saturday, March 29, 2014
I thought this tweet was worth promoting:
Also, decide if their loglines would make a better script than yours, and rewrite your script to match.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Just got off the phone with a writer friend who's been offered a lousy deal for his pitch for a TV series. The deal boils down to some money if the show goes, but no "created by" credit and no guarantee of being in the writing room. If the production company actually shot a whole first season of the show, he calculated, he'd get a maximum of under $20K, and a very, very vague non-writing credit.
The production company, of course, wants to keep their options open. They figure they'll bring on a big-deal showrunner who will rewrite the idea and want a created by credit. He may not want to involve my friend in development. He may or may not want my friend involved in the writing room. There may not even be a writing room. So the production company says they can't give my friend a credit or promise to involve him in development.
By "can't," of course, they mean, "don't want to." Of course they can. They can give my friend a (shared) created by credit. They can guarantee him involvement in the development. He's not asking for control of the show. He's asking to be part of the process on a show that he originated.
This is why writers need agents. Not just agents, but agents who are willing to stick up for them. And are willing to walk away from a deal if it's a lousy one.
The fact is, most shows don't go. If writers had to live on working on their own shows in production, all but maybe two dozen of us would starve. Writers mostly live on (a) working on other people's shows and (b) developing their own shows. The key word here is development. Lots of scripts get developed. Very few pilots get shot. Fewer pilots get picked up. Almost no shows survive their first season.
So when you make a deal for your pitch, you need to get paid every step of the way. Obviously you get paid less for a pitch document than a pilot script. Obviously you get paid less, per hour, for a pilot script (which will have to be rewritten 99 times before it's a go) than for later scripts. But you need to get paid something at each step.
And you need to be creatively involved. If you're not a showrunner yet, you want second chair. If you don't qualify for second chair, you want to be on staff. If they can't put you on staff--
--they can put you on staff. They just don't want to. They can, if necessary, pay you to write 1 1/2 development scripts and then throw those scripts out if they hate them. It's just a cost of doing business.
They can give you a created by credit. After all, it's your idea. And any decent showrunner who comes on later will just have to understand that.
If I were taking over someone else's show, I don't think it would be a dealbreaker for me that they share a created by credit. After all, they created the show. Sure, I would rewriting lots of stuff. But I'm rewriting from what they brought. Someone who tries to erase their name is a bit of a jerk.
I once optioned a script from an amateur writer. I rewrote everything. New plot. New characters. Basically, I kept his title, because it was a great title that suggested a better script than he had written.
I could have just written my own script. But that would have been stealing.
("Good Army compass. How if I take it?" asks Sherif Ali. "Then you would be a thief," says Lawrence, understanding perfectly that Sherif Ali would not at all mind considering himself a murderer, but could not tolerate being thought of as a thief, even by a dead man.)
A good showrunner does not need to steal your credit. He's the bloody showrunner. It's going to be his show to play with anyway.
Here's where your power comes in. You do not have to sell anything. They can't make your series without your agreement. You can't ask for unreasonable things -- to be a showrunner if you don't have the experience, to get paid huge money up front -- but you can insist on reasonable things. And it is reasonable to expect that if someone makes a series out of your pitch, you get some credit and money for it. That's what writers invent series for.
You will lose a few deals by insisting, in the long run, yes. But in the long run, the deals you improve will more than pay for the ones you lose. And companies that are really serious about making your pitch will ultimately consider your demands just the price of doing business. The ones that can't stomach giving you anything, I tend to think, are not the ones who will get your series made at all, ever.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Q. If a person sent you an NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement], in the body of an email, and you were asked to email back "I agree" as the sign that you read and understood the particulars.... what do you think of the validity of that exchange?
Legally, I believe, even an oral agreement is binding. An email agreement is an agreement.
However, an email is just a text file. Any text file can be edited in a text editor. What happens if one of you alters your copy of the agreement? Then it's "he said, she said."
That's why Adobe PDF software enables cryptographic signatures on documents. An encrypted "signature" at least prevents tampering with the document.
In real life, people rarely forge documents. On the other hand, you keep reading about people who do. I'd stick with actual signatures.
(I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.)
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
I listened to Neil De Grassi Tyson's podcast on NPR. He describes the work he did before going on Jon Stewart. He analyzed how long Stewart lets a guest talk before he busts out of a joke. Then Tyson practiced talking in a rhythm that would get out a complete thought in less time than that, so that he would always have made a complete point before Stewart came in with the joke.
He goes on to talk about how people compared Larry Bird as a "student of basketball" to Michael Jordan, who's a "gifted athlete." Of course Michael Jordan works really hard, and smart. No one who comes across as gifted does so without also working hard at it.
"A line will take us hours, maybe
but if it does not seem a moment's thought,
our stitching and unstitching is as nought."
I recently completed the first draft of my first action screenplay. Some of the action sequences take up two-and-a-half pages of (two-lined) description. With no dialogue in between that. I use the 'montage' approach in the way you described in "Crafty Screenwriting". Should this be avoided this at any cost?
Why, no. Movies often have two-and-a-half-minute sequences where nobody says anything. And the screenplay should create the experience of a movie. So QED, scripts can have three pages without dialog.
Of course it depends on the genre. THE AVENGERS is all about action with snappy banter. But if you are telling the story purely visually, well, that is what movies are supposed to do!
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Some games are just too much fun.
CRUSADER KINGS II is a turn-based strategy game in which you play a succession of heirs to a dynasty. Your dynasty keeps going until you hit 1453 -- or, far more likely, it dies out. Having only girl heirs can destroy your dynasty. Having your rulers die before they have kids at all is entirely possible, too.
It is an immensely complex game. You have councillors. They may like you. They may not. They may plot against you. You have vassals. They probably will plot against you. You have neighbors. They will attack you when you're weak and suck up to you when you're strong.
You can play an emperor, a king, a duke or a count. You can try to build your count up to be an emperor. That's almost impossible, but a boy can dream, can't he?
I played the Bagrationi dynasty, rulers of the Kingdom of Georgia. My first three kings did pretty well, expanding from four counties to maybe a dozen. I took two Christian counties back from the Muslims. Some of that was the doing of the Dukes of Kartli, also of my bloodline, and therein lay a problem: they all thought they'd make better kings than I. They were always waiting to overthrow me.
Then my last King had only a girl child. No sons. Then he died of the pox, leaving me playing a 2-year-old princess. None of her vassals liked her: on top of being a minor, and a girl, she was also a coward. (All the characters have a slew of virtues and vices you can do nothing to improve.) The duchess of Kartli (the duke had died in my prison) forced me to accept electoral succession; then a cousin got himself elected to the throne.
My now-demoted duchess saved her gold up until she was 16, and hired four thousand horse archers to take her throne back. She threw the amiable usurper in prison and put her brother on the throne. (I forgot to mention: seven months after the succession crisis, my deceased King's Queen had a boy. If she'd just done that a year earlier, there would have been no succession crisis.)
That was about four in the morning. CKII is as addictive as CIVILIZATION, another game I have banned myself from playing. Turn-based strategy means you can fuss endlessly; there's never a good reason to stop playing. (Well, had I kept playing, the Mongols would have swept the Bagrationi from their throne well before 1453. There's no beating the Mongols.)
But CKII is to CIVILIZATION as DARK SOULS is to SKYRIM: you will eventually die. The fun is in staying alive as long as you can, and doing as much as possible, with the game actively trying to kill you. You don't play CKII for the graphics. It is all maps, numbers and sound effects.
But I found CKII to be one of the most immersive games I've played. The game mechanics are really well thought out. They recreate the travails of being a feudal lord. You struggle to find councillors who are good at what they do; when you do, you can't always use them. I had a courtier whose stewardship, 16, was significantly higher than my current steward, whose stewardship was only 14. Unfortunately the current steward was the red-bearded Duke of Kartli. I really did not want to offend my most powerful vassal by giving some courtier his job. So he stayed on, and the talented guy had to wait years -- until the Duke rebelled against me.
I knew I wouldn't be able to get to sleep with the game merely paused. So I deleted all my saved games. And threw the app in the trash. And deleted the trash.
Now I can get some work done.
Wait ... that wasn't actually the app I trashed ... I think it was just the shortcut.
It wouldn't hurt if I played just a little bit more... would it?