in the thick of it

Yeah, so it’s a clichĂ©. It’s a good one!

It’s an apt one. A little over a month ago, I began work on my next short film project. As I said in a previous post, I pretty much had to go back to the drawing board with my team and my vision. It was a big deal. It still is a big deal, but it’s not as horrible as I thought it might be. Not at all. My new director doesn’t have a ton of experience, but she doesn’t let that get in the way. I’m really excited by what she’s brought to the table, and I can’t wait to see her grow. I even picked up a very driven cinematographer. I had no idea what a joy it could be to work with someone like him. In film school, we were all developing our eye, so… although I had worked with a few, it wasn’t at all like this. It’s the core of, maybe, a new team. I don’t want to get ahead of things, so I’ll leave it there. Maybe a new team. 🙂

As for the project itself. Wow. I have never felt more outside my comfort zone and in the deep. Being a producer sucks–and it’s awesome. I have so many people to talk to, elements to draw together, people to hire, fire, and placate. It’s a great experience, and it’s definitely stretching muscles I never thought to develop. On the flip side, I feel like I’ve lost a creative step in the process. I’m a little less involved in the actual production than I’m used to, because my head is overloaded with all these strange logistical concerns. (Not the least of which involves my ever-expanding, non-existent budget!) Forms upon forms to organize, get signed, keep together. Last minute brushfires to put out (they don’t have an 85mm macro lens anymore!). Outsiders to bring in only to learn shortly thereafter that they might’ve spoken in haste and really don’t have time to get involved.

That’s one of the hardest lessons. I already knew that people aren’t always reliable. You prepare for that. But sometimes it hurts when certain individuals you were really counting on just don’t come through because of… reasons. It reminds me a little of what happened over the summer, and some might say that I’m asking for it when I don’t take a firm stand on the issue. Just tell them they’re fired! Or write them off. Definitely don’t beg. It’s true. I could be tougher. I have been tougher, but it’s those lost relationships I miss most and wish I hadn’t lost.

Well. I’m learning.

Meanwhile… I suppose this would be a good time to plug? Sure. Let’s plug.

So my new short film is called “The Lazarus Bridge.” It’s about a young woman who’s dealing with a very unique, very difficult client at work on the day of her mother’s funeral. It stars Meghan Bordeaux (find her here, here, and here) and Matthew Hallstein. It also co-stars Isaiah Grass (catch him here, here, here, here, and here) and Journie Kalous (see her here and here). A truly gorgeous and gifted cast. And it’s directed by Crystal Contreras, a very passionate and talented filmmaker on the rise, I assure you. Our first shoot day is done and behind us (hopefully behind us), and it looks pretty damn good so far. Our final two days are this weekend, and I’m sick-excited (mostly sick) to see it come together. If anyone is interested–and, of course, you are ;)–you can check out some of my company’s work on this and previous projects.

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

I’m still working on an official webpage. (Anyone know a good web designer?)

It’s been exhausting so far, and there’s a lot left to do (post-production, anybody?). And then, of course, NaNoWriMo is about to start too. 😩 Damn. Why aren’t there enough hours in the day? Well. Somebody wish me luck.

 

James

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when things don’t quite work out

So where did we leave off? Ahh yes. On a high note!

Well. Summer came and it’s slowly on the way out. Shot, edited, and promoted the company’s first short film, That’s my D*ck! And in retrospect, I feel as though I should’ve included a disclaimer. It’s not a porno, it doesn’t have nudity, it doesn’t even have swearing (I think). It’s not offensive in the slightest. It’s just a play on words. But I didn’t say any of that, so more than a few times I got the troll lash for pushing what people thought was a porno. Lesson learned!

Not so long ago, I had a particular vision for my film company. That vision, alas, has become muddled in the last several days. I’m looking at starting from scratch (with the exception that I now have a short film under my belt and some hard-earned experience). I’m no stranger to failure, few of us are. Trying and failing is easy. It’s the getting back up to try again that’s hard.

It’s coming up on ten years soon, since I decided to steer myself toward a future in filmmaking. I’ve made a few strides, I’ve second-guessed myself a million times, I’ve screwed up even more than that. But I can only do what I think is best. I’ll miss some of the relationships that have been lost, definitely the friendships. But I can’t let the setbacks get in my way anymore. I’ve spent too much of my life nursing old wounds and sulking over past failures. Not this time.

Ever since I started writing seriously, I’ve been hyper-critical of my own work. If I don’t think it’s the best I could do, then I don’t feel especially accomplished even though I finished it. This was a problem in film school. I never owned the work that I wasn’t proud of. Maybe the hardest lesson I can learn from all of this is that I need to stand by my work. Even if it’s bad. And as I read in another blog, especially if it’s bad. I have permission to make… not-good stuff. But I can’t step away from it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

I produced That’s my D*ck! It was a hell of a ride planning for it and shooting it. It was a slog editing it. And I don’t know what to say about the end product except that I’m proud of it. I didn’t show that before. I didn’t know how to. But I am proud of it. And I’m very proud of all the people who helped make it possible, and there were many.

Own your work, good or bad.

Get back up.

And move forward with confidence.

Are you listening, self?

same as last time

Writing is an art.

“Duh,” you say. “Shah,” I reply, to quote my favorite high school English teacher. Here’s my point. Writing is not a science. It lacks quantifiable rules and hard absolutes. We like to believe that distinguishing good writing from bad writing is obvious and universal. Hemingway and Thoreau good. Meyer and Paolini bad. You won’t find me in disagreement about those examples, but this notion of determining the quality of writing stands on shaky ground. It’s completely subjective. True, there is a craft to writing well. One needs look no further than Campbell’s monomyth, but we’re describing cross-cultural truths and themes, not laws.

I love, love the works of R. Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson. I think they’re exceptional writers, true masters of the craft. I aspire to shape my storytelling like theirs: non-traditional, epic in scope, rich in philosophical nuance. But a lot of people would disagree with me. Patrick Rothfuss and Christie Golden have legions of fans defending their every word, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading them too. I’m convinced they’re glorified hacks.

Damn. I’m starting to sound a little resentful, aren’t I? This isn’t the direction I want to go, so allow me to get back on track.

Writing is subjective. There.

Ultimately, only you can decide if you’re a good writer or not. (Or if your preferred author is good or not, but I’m going to focus on “you the writer,” not “you the reader.”) Only you have the power to say if your story works or not. No one has the power to tell you that your stuff is weak sauce and be right. Because writing is, pardon my language, fucking art. It’s not some geometry proof where you missed a step and messed it all up.

So… why, then, does it hit us so hard when the feedback we get isn’t the feedback we were hoping for? It’s not that we wonder if our writing sucks. Okay, it’s not only that we wonder that. It’s that we want our work to be understood. At least that’s how it is with me. In a way, yes, I’m referring to the old adage that our writing is personal and comes from our own experience. I don’t care if people think/say/write that my writing sucks. I’m confident and comfortable enough to know that it doesn’t. And I really don’t care if my writing is appreciated, because I write for me. I don’t write for validation, kudos, or Kit-Kat bars. Because in my heart, I firmly believe that writing is about communicating. And I think everyone wants to be understood.

The editor who has been working on my manuscript is very good. Excellent, even. I can clearly see in her notes that she’s intelligent, intuitive, and a skilled communicator. The work she’s put into my manuscript has been exceptional, and I would eagerly refer other writers to her. Still. I’m not sure she really understands what I’m trying to do. Or maybe she does, and my manuscript really needs a lot of work. It’s something she and I will have to discuss.

As I said in my last post, I have not been the best at identifying weaknesses in my own storytelling efforts until long after the fact. I guess it’s not so unusual to say that we writers have some blindspots when it comes to our work. But that’s not the case with my manuscript. I went into it knowing that it would lack certain elements traditionally considered essential or, at least, desirable. Telling stories in medias res requires some adjustments. The reader needs to exercise some patience and have faith that, by the end of the story, their initial questions will be satisfied in one way or another. It’s a common technique, in literature and film, but mainstream films tend to rely heavily on flashback sequences to fill in the blanks. I wasn’t going to do that, at least not in the same way I’d seen it done. My manuscript would ask more of the reader, and I’ve succeeded for the most part. Maybe too much. My editor may think so, and so maybe my blindspots persist.

I’m also hyper-critical. Of myself and others. I’m very good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) at identifying weak points in others’ stories. Camera angles look that look askew. Lighting that distracts. Acting that doesn’t convince. Dialogue that falls flat. Plot choices that strain credulity. (Yeah, all cinematic stuff. I’m a little gentler with literature.) And with my own work… well, I’m extremely nit-picky about my choices. (Not so much here in the blog, though. I work hard to stay relaxed.) I agonize over every character choice, every twist in plot. It all has great meaning. And I want to be understood.

when the feedback you’re hoping for isn’t the feedback you get

No, no clever title this time, though I admit this may still confuse some people.

When I went to film school, I had a lot of big story ideas I couldn’t wait to translate to the screen. I’d been writing for so many years, fantasizing about my stories appearing on TV or film. I’d spent days, then weeks and months developing characters and story arcs… maybe I was a little light on theme, but the hope of further developing my ideas pushed me to step way outside my comfort zone twice and move across the country to attend film school.

If you ever hear someone say that filmmaking is a collaborative art, it’s completely true. And in some ways it isn’t. Unless you’re gifted with superhuman speed, stamina, and masochistic tendencies, you need other people to work alongside you–a cast and crew. When we’re talking professional (Hollywood or “indie”) productions, there’s really no way around that. You just can’t make a film by yourself. But when I say that filmmaking isn’t collaborative, I mean that as the designated “filmmaker,” the person with the vision and the need to make this film (whether that makes you the director or the producer), it’s really all on you to push and make sure you succeed. Like with writing in general, it can be kind of a lonely road. Your vision guides the shape the story takes. Your perseverance steers the project through the inevitable tough times. (Yes, I know all about the studio system. Let’s not pop open that particular can of worms.) It may be that you’ll invite others to participate in your storytelling process, of course, but the product should reflect what you want. Don’t look to someone else to make those final creative decisions, because you’re the filmmaker. (There’s a really great text called The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide: Financing, Shooting and Distributing Independent and Digital Films
by Jon M. Garon
that describes this concept of a “filmmaker” in its opening chapters.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t take this lesson to heart while I was at film school. Despite all my hard work, I never fully “owned” my productions, and the quality suffered for it. And for as long as I was in school, I never really understood why. I never even noticed the problems on set, or during post-production, not until it was too late.

My classmates saw it but if they knew the real reason why, they didn’t say. Despite that, they still saw more clearly than I did. They pointed out the obvious, of course. (Obvious in hindsight.) Visually, a lot of my work was a mess. I couldn’t argue with it. But I was sure the story, the script, was solid at least. Feedback on that part was minimal. Neutral. Needless to say, I was crushed. It wasn’t until I switched from a Directing concentration to Screenwriting that I finally started to received the kind of feedback I was looking for.

Except it wasn’t the feedback I was hoping for.

My professors–and especially my thesis committee–and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on my scripts. Technically and lyrically, they had nothing but high praise. Thematically and otherwise, well, I can only hope that they just didn’t get what I was trying to do. Whether they did or not, though, the feedback was discouraging. In the words of one professor (whose opinion means a lot to me), “It’s beautifully written, but I just don’t see why I should give a shit about these characters.”

Those words, even now several years later, have never left me.

it’s a wrap… sigh

Yes, I know it’s cliche. Forgive me.

This past weekend was crazy, stressful, exciting, tiring, sweaty, and truly productive. We shot and wrapped my film company’s first production. A short film, some might even call it a skit. I call it a milestone. I was sure up until the day of that something would go awry and we’d have to cancel it. And with the one exception of a missing piece of equipment, it went off without a hitch!

Yes, friends. I am in that post-production (but not yet post production!) glow, and now it’s time to kick my social media campaign into gear. With that said, here are some key links I hope you all check out and decide to follow:

http://www.facebook.com/dancingwombatproductions

http://www.vimeo.com/dancingwombatproductions

http://www.instagram.com/dancingwombatpr

http://www.twitter.com/dancingwombatpr

By the way, my company name is Dancing Wombat Productions. 🙂 Why? Well… the short answer is I like wombats. Look them up. They’re odd and adorable and can probably claw your face off if you’re not careful. The longer answer is that the “Dancing” part of the name is a dedication to a friend of mine who died not long ago. She had dreams and hopes, and we worked together briefly on helping each other pursue those dreams and hopes. I never want to forget her, and I want my efforts with my company to help honor her.

Finishing principal photography on this project is the culmination of months of work, despair, wallet-emptying, and stepping way outside my comfort zone. I made a lot of connections with people I never thought I’d meet. A talented and easygoing director. Fantastic actresses. A jack-of-all-trades musician and production crewer. And other people have supported me in this endeavor in so many ways. My mother, various friends, even some co-workers. There are so many people who deserve credit, without whom I would never have gotten to this point.

Hah. This is starting to sound like an acceptance speech at an awards show, isn’t it? Alright.

This whole thing is all the crazier considering the writing projects I have going on at the same time. My work on my manuscript is being taken to the next level with a very skilled editor. Plus I’m working on another manuscript I hope to self-publish sometime this year. It’s been such an uneven month for me. I’m a pretty impatient person, and sometimes it’s felt like I haven’t been doing anything or getting anywhere. And there’s plenty of areas in my life where that is still the case. But in this one area, this creative area, I’m beginning to see results and I can barely believe it. Of course there’s so much more work to do on this first project alone, but… no one can ever tell me I haven’t done anything ever again.

no brains allowed

This is kind of a film review… but not really. I don’t go into the particulars of the narrative. So no spoilers, either!

 

Popcorn, check. X-tra large Coke, check. Contraband M&Ms, check. Logical, critically-thinking brain–whoa. Check that at the door.

A disappointing number of blockbuster films this year have done their best to convince us that they are, in fact, good films. Transformers 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even Guardians of the Galaxy. (And I really wanted to love that last one.) The most I can say for any of these movies is that they aim to be fun–but senseless. Plot holes are meant to be ignored. Narrative dead ends are unimportant. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

I can enjoy spectacle. Why, just last month I loved the Fourth of July fireworks. But I can’t forgive this new wave of cinema that insists we not pay attention to the nonsensical story. Should I have expected more from Transformers 4 or TMNT? Of course not. They’re the film equivalent of cotton candy. They’re gum: sweet and diverting to chew, but utterly indigestible. I did–and rightly so–expect more from Guardians of the Galaxy, though, which is currently coasting through good reviews and word-of-mouth on a tide of nerd-love, Star Wars-ian nostalgia, Rocket Raccoon worship, bitchin’ music, and a lot of Marvel kool-aid.

None of these scripts would’ve passed muster in film school–except maybe for the obvious market appeal. Setting aside the fact that these are all franchise cogs, I am hard-pressed to think of better examples of lazy storytelling. Since the aforementioned Michael Bay efforts never had a chance of approaching a coherent narrative, I’m going to focus squarely on Guardians.

Let me be clear. I’m a Marvel fan. I’m a DC fan. I’m a comics, sci-fi, fantastical storytelling fan in general. I loved Marvel’s Phase One. I enjoy Arrow, and I even nerdgasmed over the Dark Knight trilogy. The current adoration over Guardians, however, leaves me nearly apoplectic. As a writer and as a would-be filmmaker, I’m appalled by the shortcuts James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman took. Entire character biographies were dropped in spurts of dialogue like oversized nukes. Songs from the 70s provide the emotional atmosphere, obfuscating any genuine experience we have with the story. Ironically, it’s the surprisingly entertaining character of Groot that serves as a metaphor for the entire process. For a character reduced to only using the same three words as his entire vocabulary, he conveys an impossible amount of information and intent each time he says them. In his case, it works–as a humorous conceit. In the case of the film, I find the conceit too big to swallow.

I saw the movie on opening night with a buddy of mine. I took care to notice the other people in the theater with us. Geeks, mostly, a lot like us, but with a few families and small children. Undoubtedly, the mood of an audience affects the moviegoer and vice-versa. Could it have been my bad luck, then, that those around me weren’t terribly moved by anything they saw or heard? The only time I noticed any significant emotional reaction was when a new song started. After we left, the chatter was subdued and mostly about other topics not involving the movie we’d all just seen. I turned to my buddy and noticed a small frown on his face. “I didn’t really like it,” I said. His frown deepened. “Yeah… me either,” he replied. It was like being told Santa was a lie.

I was so looking forward to Guardians. I’m no hater. And there’s a lot I liked about the film. Chris Pratt was great. Bradley Cooper was entertaining. Dave Bautista was surprisingly good, too. (I had mixed feelings about Michael Rooker, who I normally love to death.) I geeked out over the Thanos moments, brief as they were, and even Lee Pace was great to watch, although Ronan the Accuser is one of the weakest, most one-dimensional villains I’ve ever seen in any film. But the story never captured me, not from the first scene.

Obviously, it’s all subjective. One man’s masterpiece is another man’s total waste of time. 🙂

All I know is, if Avengers 2 doesn’t blow me away, I may need to take an extended break from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

the synopsis: the final frontier

For us writers, that is.

To those of you thinking about publishing, maybe you know or maybe you don’t, it’s not as simple as sending your manuscript off to a publisher with a letter introducing yourself. But it’s pretty close. 🙂

Query letter, synopsis (usually 1-2 pages), and a manuscript. Three things a fiction writer (non-fiction is different) needs before contacting an agent or publisher. It took me months of writing and re-writing and a lot of feedback from other writer friends to finally develop a query letter that I feel is compelling and polished enough to use. Is it perfect? Of course not, and I don’t think it can be the first time out. But I’ve decided that I’ve done as much as I can with my query letter, and it’s time to see what it can do.

I thought I was done. Until I started researching fantasy lit agents (my manuscript is fantasy) and realized that 99% of them want a synopsis. I had written synopses before, in film school. We don’t call them that, though. We refer to them as treatments or outlines or beat sheets. Unfortunately, treatments are usually too long and outlines are too dry to meet the criteria for a great synopsis. So I went back to research, and I thought I would share the most important, seemingly universal pieces of advice that I’ve found on what a synopsis actually looks like on the page.

First, about the formatting: a synopsis is either single-spaced or double-spaced, although most agents seem to want one that’s double-spaced. It doesn’t really affect the length of the synopsis word-wise, though, since a synopsis should be somewhere between 500 and 1000 words regardless of how you space. It seems, then, that the question of spacing was more relevant when letters and synopses were printed out and mailed. Although it seems to be strongly suggested that if you are going to single-space your synopsis, separate each paragraph with a blank line, sort of how your query letter looks.

Second, use the standard font type and size. This will most often be 12-point font Times New Roman. There really is no need to use any other, but if you do use a different font, use one that has a serif. Also, use one-inch margins on all sides. This won’t really be noticeable when you paste it in your email along with your query letter, so I presume it’s to make sure your synopsis isn’t too long (again, 1 or 2 pages). Indenting each paragraph is recommended.

Write the synopsis in present tense (is, not was) and in the third-person (he/she, not I)–even if your manuscript is in the first-person. I found this surprising, but this is how we write things in the film industry. Scripts, treatments, and outlines are all written in present tense, third-person. The reasoning for this is that it adds a sense of urgency to the reading experience.

I know none of this really has much to do with the actual content or style of your synopsis. As I’m reviewing my notes, I suddenly realize just how much I need to communicate about this. I’m definitely going to have to add another post. Maybe more.

I can’t emphasize the importance of your synopsis enough–if the agent/publisher you’re looking at requests one. The synopsis will often be the only representation of your voice and skill as a writer that the agent reads–even more so than your query letter. While some may ask for the first ten, twenty, or thirty pages–or the first few chapters–of your manuscript, your synopsis will impact their expectations and perception first.

So will this take time? Absolutely. Weeks? Probably. Months? Possibly. Years? No. 🙂

But is it worth it? Oh yes.

running on fumes

Sometimes, a lot of times, I don’t really know what to say. This happens most often in social situations, where I am the worst. On one of my favorite TV shows, Joss Whedon’s Angel, there’s a great quote that sums up my skills at chit-chat and general socializing.

“I”m so glad you came. You know how parties are. You’re always worried that no one’s going to suck the energy out of the room like a giant black hole of boring despair. But there you were in the clinch!”

Exaggeration? Maybe, but not far off. I try, though. Sometimes I end up with something witty. Sometimes… most of the time, it just comes off as awkward and unsettling. When it’s with strangers, this is pretty bad. But when it’s with people I know, when it’s with family, it’s a hundred times worse. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s better not to try and just stick with what I do best. Which is play the wallflower.

Sadly, this won’t work if I hope to make something of myself in Hollywood. You have to be noticed. You have to put yourself out there.

In writing… well, it’s the same principle. Sometimes, I don’t know what to write. And not just for the blog, although that can be an unhappy challenge unto itself. It happens when I’m working on a story. It took forever to finish my book. It’s been a year or so since I’ve been staring this script project in the face. My screenwriting partner definitely does not appreciate this, and he recently called me out on it. It’s not that I dislike the story. No, I’m still sold on it. It still interests me. It still excites me. So why?

I think in some cases, it’s fatigue. You’ve devoted so much of yourself to a thing, that you’re burned out. Now I haven’t written anything for the script in a while, but I think about it almost all the time. I don’t always have something brilliant to write down, but my brain constantly works on it. My brain has been constantly working on it for over three years. It was the same way with my book. Even now, I think about my book and occasionally jot down some notes.

I think my brain’s tired. But I really don’t know how to turn it off. I live in my head. It’s my strength and my weakness. I can think something through even when I don’t realize it. I see something. My brain deconstructs it, then builds it anew. Stories, people, whatever. I’m tired, but it’s difficult to explain to people.

I have a friend who, I think, is going through a similar difficulty. I wish I could help her. I wish someone could help me.

I have a little vacation time saved up from work. Maybe I need to take it. Now if I just knew what to do while on vacation…

over the hump

Part of me wonders if this should’ve gone along with my thoughts about fear, because I suspect it has a lot to do with fear. And perfection. And the fear of not creating something perfect.

Btw, I ended up sort of taking a break from writing. Instead, I’ve been stressing about writing.

We all want to write our best, and we want people to read our best. We want it to be perfect. (At least I do.) Maybe for pride, maybe for self-respect, I think maybe to convince us that all the hell we went through taking our story from beginning to end was worth it. Why else spend weeks/months/years toiling over something?

I’m having some trouble pulling the trigger on my book. The reasons appear to be valid, and yet… I wonder if there are always going to be reasons. I mentioned my problem to a friend. She took some time and helped me work through it. I feel a lot better.

Now I just need to do my research for an agent/publisher. It’s deceptively complicated. In some ways, it’s as simple as visiting writersmarket.com (if you have a subscription), querytracker.net, or agentquery.com and finding someone that’s looking for what you’ve written. But I think it’s more involved than just spamming your search results with a query letter. Over the last couple months, I attended a few seminars on the various stages of writing and publishing. Some of the success stories were too unlikely to model my own pursuit after, but I did gleam some wisdom from them. Finding an agent is like finding a significant other. It’s a committed relationship you’re looking for, built on the trust that the other person wants what’s best for you and will strive to help you achieve your dreams. So you could try to speed-date your way to a successful match. Or you could be more deliberate and reach out to those you feel might really understand what it is you’ve written and what you hope to do with it. Last year I sent out two query letters. They both met with standard rejections. Before I tried, I was worried how I’d react to a rejection. Well. I was fine, and I got the proof I needed to realize I will be okay if/when I get rejected again. That fear is over.

There are a lot of websites describing the incredible perseverance of many popular, critically-acclaimed writers to make their first sell. Go look them up. It’s crazy, but I find it encouraging. Don’t give up, right? That’s the moral of the story there. The writer that gives up never gets published, produced, or representation. For those of us who’ve gotten as far as finishing a book/script, we soon realize that that was the easy part. Selling it is the hard part. The research, the query, the waiting, the rejection. Sometimes even hearing that someone else we know achieved success. (I’m not bitter, honest.) You know, the whole “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” thing.

It’s really tempting for me to set all that aside and just start working on the next book. My brain definitely wants to go to that creative well again, dive in, swim around… you get the metaphor. And if I hadn’t decided to get really serious about making this my career, that would be fine. But doing that won’t help me keep moving forward. My screenwriting partner likes to give me a lot of grief for, what he believes to be, wasting time on trying to get published. He much prefers I focus on scripts, and I can understand where he’s coming from. But as long as I’m actually pushing myself forward, as long as I’m querying agents, I’m never going to see this as a waste of time. When I stop trying, when I go back to doing manuscripts just “for fun,” that’s when I’ll realize it’s time to let go and get back to scriptwriting. And since I’m not there yet, I really need to put my money where my mouth is. I need to get cracking on agent research. I need to send out those query letters, pronto.

So wish me luck. The goal? Have an update on this by next time. 🙂

TV blog extravaganza! (part 1 of 2)

So here’s the online chat Steph and I had about some of our favorite TV shows. During this discussion, we cover story arcs, characters–particularly the anti-hero, and a crapload of spoilers for the following shows: Castle, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, NCIS, Once Upon a Time, The Originals, Person of Interest, Psych, Revenge, and The Vampire Diaries. So… don’t read too far in if you don’t want to know some of what’s happened!

Also, we admit this is a pretty long blog post, so Steph and I split it into two parts. Read the first part below, and head over to the Vindicator Artists blog to get the rest of it!

Stephanie is in blue. I’m in red.

 

Hello, Steph!

Hello.

So I know that we had talked about doing this last week, but you had an exciting shoot to do!

Which was great for me, too, since it gave me a chance to do some last minute catch-up on some of the shows I’ve slacked on.

Yeah, it was a great shoot. Really excited about it. Martial arts film. Woo-hoo! It was great to be back on set with my film family. I’ve really missed it. I love writing and enjoy my solitude, but I’m always glad to be back on set. I really miss it when I don’t get to be on set.

That is exciting. I’m extremely jealous.

Yeah, it’s really hard, when you first get out of film school, where you were so busy with more projects and schoolwork than you could handle, and then you graduate and your classmates that you’ve been making movies with for the past three years scatter all over the country, and everyone is trying to make ends meet and still do what we love which is telling stories on screen.

Matching up content with funding is ridiculously hard. Especially in an economic environment in which nobody is really excited to invest in anything.

True. Wow, yes we could even spend a whole blog about that topic and Kickstarter, Zach Braff, Spike Lee, and Veronica Mars and what it means for indie filmmakers like us. And maybe we’ll do that, too! But this evening we’re going to focus on television–a topic which as you know, Steph, is near and dear to my heart. Much more, in fact, than feature filmmaking.

Did you ever see Veronica Mars when it was on TV?

No.

I saw an advertisement at Walmart and got it confused with Veronica Roth, the author of Divergent series.

That was my bad.

Huh. Yeah. No. Totally different… everything. I’ll spare you my opinion of Veronica Roth and her trilogy, though.

That’s what I get for staying too much in my writer’s solitude. I have no idea with what’s going on with the rest of the world that I’m supposed to be writing about.

We need to boost your television literacy!

I know. It’s embarrassing.

But it’s funny, since when you and I first talked about doing this dual blog thing, we discussed what shows we watched.

About how many shows did you say you watch? Religiously?

I watch about eleven throughout the year. Some of them have short seasons.

And I spend time catching up on some shows on Netflix.

For example, I just finished Dr. Who episodes that are available on Netflix. Picked up the first season of Fringe and working on fourth season of Sons of Anarchy.

And a couple of episodes of Into the Universe with Steven Hawking.

Ahh. So you like a little education with your entertainment.

Yes.

It makes me feel better for the hours I spend, haha.

Well, I remember I started listing off the shows that I watch, and then we discovered that I may watch a lot of TV. Maybe more than is healthy for a sane human being.

At the close of this spring season and as we head into summer, I watch about forty-eight shows, of which thirty-seven will be continuing sometime next fall, winter, or spring.

And it never really seemed like a lot to me, but apparently I’m a couch potato/TV junkie.

Let’s be clear, though. I don’t have a problem. 🙂

Haha.

I just think there’s a ton of great content out there now. In fact, I daresay that television is the place to be if you want to write, create, produce, or even act really compelling stuff.

Exactly. I mean, I’m not diminishing film at all. I still enjoy the big summer spectacle and the Oscar darling. What I mean is that TV was once considered a stepping stone toward a film career, but I’d say it’s really become part of the cultural consciousness just as much as features, maybe even more. You’ve got Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Downton Abbey, True Detective.

Yeah, I still love movies, but I think in television you have a greater opportunity to develop long character arcs and develop more subplots and have more of an ensemble of compelling characters than even franchise films where you only get the audience for two hours a year or every other year.

It seems like communities are built around TV shows more so than films that have a few weeks in the theater, and then in a few months they are out on DVD and there are so many choices on Redbox and Netflix that it’s hard for a film that doesn’t have a community behind it to compete with the other content.

I think Marvel is trying to fix that for themselves, but they are having to spend so much money to pull it off and so much depends on the audience keeping interest in superheroes.

That said, I would be heartbroken if I didn’t get to go to the movies.

I might feel that way, too, if I hadn’t spent almost two years working at a movie theater. That almost killed my love for films. But you’re definitely onto something, pointing out TV’s ability to do longer story arcs, to really build and deconstruct fascinating characters. I feel like this TV season has been especially brutal, though, to some of our favorite characters. What do you think about that?

Brutal, downright cruel. I understand the need to up the ante to maintain audience interest, but I don’t know. I think some of the shows have pulled out too many stops.

At this point, I’d like to warn the readers that we will be diving into some of the specifics of this past season’s TV shows.

So… SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned.

I know that you watch more than a few shows I haven’t really gotten into, Steph. Any particularly painful moments you’d like to share/relive? 🙂

I have been dying to talk to someone about The Vampire Diaries!!

I have to emphasize the word dying.

Alright. I’ll be honest. I have not been keeping up with that show this season. But I did read some articles a couple days ago and essentially spoiled myself. Go ahead.

Depending on whether or not Damon is actually dead or not, I am either really excited to see how they are going to bring him back or I am ready to burn down the studio which is in Georgia, so not too far from my clutches.

Don’t get me wrong. I like most of the characters but there is no way Enzo can replace Damon.

You little pyro. So are you saying you didn’t see this coming?

I had heard that Damon dies in one of the books, but I never dreamed they would write him off, so I’m assuming there is a way to bring him back from the “dead” or “undead dead.”

I don’t think the show would survive without Damon.

If they were wanting me to totally believe that Damon was really dead, I don’t believe it.

It seems to be the curse of the onscreen/offscreen romance. But you seem to think they didn’t actually kill him… permanently. Which is already weird to say, since he plays a vampire on the show.

Well, they’ve been building toward Damon accepting the ultimate act of heroism which is to die to save everyone else, but he was acting under the belief that Bonnie could bring him back. So I knew that when he went to the Other Side, I had a feeling that he wasn’t going to make it back.

Also, it seems nobody on TVD ever really stays dead.

I know. So I don’t know how they could really make Damon and Bonnie and Lexi stay dead forever.

Especially now that Alaric is back. Damon is his drinking buddy. So of course Damon is coming back.

Now, I did watch TVD from the beginning up until about halfway through this season. In some ways, he’s really developed a lot as a character. Four+ years, and I guess a character should show growth, or they start to get a little boring, right?

Damon has come a long way.

Stefan even makes the comment when Damon dies that Damon had just gotten everything he wanted and he was happy.
So I guess the moral is as soon as you get everything you want, you die.

Misery is the secret to life, is that it?

I guess you can’t be accepted into whatever the other side of the Other Side is if you still have unhappiness holding you back. The other side of the Other Side can’t be contaminated with the tragedy of human experience.

Bottom line: if the studio has made Damon dead to me, then TVD is dead to me.

Amen and Amen. I agree, Damon is the lifeblood (har-har) of that show.

Haha.

Now, this isn’t the first show that’s tried to pull a death-that-is-not-death on you, is it? I heard something similar about Castle…?

Well, the network kind of spoiled that one when they went to commercial break and said Kate and Castle will return next season, so obviously he’s not really dead. And pretty much the only way to kill a main character is to show the body with the eyes open in the death stare. Even then, I still held out hope that Matthew Grantham could possibly still be alive.

Matthew, no. Ugh. Why’d you take me there? The pain is still too near.

Damn you, Downton Abbey!

But, and I feel bad about this, but a new romance for Mary sounds fun.

True, but in a way I feel like maybe they should’ve retitled the show this season to The Many Men of Mary. But Matthew’s death was last season, not this season. Not a single death for the Granthams this year (which is the UK’s last year, but whatever), proving that TV is not all doom and gloom after all.

At least Psych ended on a somewhat good note. Jules’s engagement ring got stolen just as Shawn finally proposed, but that led into a fun car chase.

Shawn and Gus are still together.

To be fair, though, Psych never really went to much of a dark place, did it? I don’t know. I didn’t catch the last season and a half.

Yeah, it never got too serious. A couple years ago, we thought Henry may have died, but he survived.

Shawn and Gus almost die every episode, but we always know they will get of it by some bizarre occurrence in the universe.

Or Shawn’s smart mouth.

Well, clearly they couldn’t kill Henry (Shawn’s dad). It would’ve irrevocably changed the characters of the show.

Yeah, the show is more about how unchangeable the characters are.

It’s one of the key differences between Psych and The Mentalist.

I mean, that and the fact that Psych is pure awesome, and The Mentalist is obnoxious and should be put out to pasture. 🙂

(Okay, that’s not fair of me. I’ve never watched a whole episode.)

Haha. well, some people like the show even if they think Jane is a jerk.

Jane is good and highly entertaining as a jerk, so it works for him.

He fits well with the rest of the characters, kinda like Gibbs on NCIS. Gibbs is a jerk sometimes but you can always depend on DiNozzo to lighten the mood.

Yes, and like Jane, DiNozzo is also obnoxious–but in a much more lovable way.

Exactly.

So what we’re really saying is Jane is a combination of Gibbs and DiNozzo…

Hmmm. I guess you could make that suggestion.

I love DiNozzo, so I’m very protective of him, haha.

Okay, now I haven’t watched this show much since the fourth season. Did I miss anything? 🙂 I didn’t, right?

Well, Ziva isn’t there, but I don’t remember which season she came in. Pretty much the characters are the same. DiNozzo has matured at infinitesimal increments, and he has had some serious moments.

What season is it in, anyway?

11, I think.

But the success is not because of the change in the characters or the storylines. It’s because we can depend on the NCIS team to be the same every week. We know what to expect. They never let us down by changing into someone else. I would be devastated if Tony DiNozzo got all serious and stopped being an overgrown frat boy.

Funny you mention that. Now if I remember right, NCIS got in pretty much at the beginning of the forensic drama craze, didn’t it?

Yes, I think so.

One thing that helped the show was that it was in the same universe as JAG, which was a popular courtroom drama that had similar who-dun-it aspects to it and a good ensemble of characters.

In fact, if I may add, I have been waiting for years, for NCIS to have Harm and Mac make a guest appearance, haha.

Hm. I never watched JAG, except for the backdoor pilot that introduced Gibbs. Long time ago. And like I said, I gave up on NCIS years ago, mostly I guess because I sorta lost interest in the procedural thing. But maybe you can speak to that. What do you think separates NCIS from other shows with a similar premise, like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order?

 

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