Tuesday, November 10, 2020

SPONTANEOUS, one of the best films of the year, is now out on DVD

When SPONTANEOUS hit VOD about five weeks ago, I was preparing for an extremely hectic month, so I opted not to do one of my long reviews then, figuring that by the time it came out on DVD on November 10th, I'd be able to really give it the attention it deserved.

Ha. If you've read this blog over the last few weeks, you know that my life is WAY too busy to do that, so I've decided to do a briefer, spoiler free review. I'm writing this because I want you to see it.

SPONTANEOUS is easily my favorite movie of the year. I realize that's not saying much in a year like this, so it might help to add that this would have been in my Top 5, maybe Top 3 of last year, had it come out then. It's one of those movies that I call a "magic trick" film. If someone told you about it, you'd never imagine in a million years that it would work flawlessly on screen. It walks this amazing tonal tightrope between being a dark comedy, and heartfelt, sincere, and heartbreaking. If I saw it as a teen, it's the kind of movie that would have made me want to MAKE movies.

A number of my early scripts were attempts at mashing up tones and genres that didn't usually work together. The result was a lot of scripts that few people knew what to make of, and if I'm being honest with myself, there probably was a question if the tone worked on the page, let alone was going to be effective on-screen. When I see someone stick the landing with a movie that almost invents its own tone, I take notice.

The premise is that teenagers start spontaneously exploding. One of the script's boldest decisions is the deaths are played for laughs BEFORE we're asked to care about people whose lives are at stake.  Some 45 seconds into the film, a student has exploded suddenly, splattering their classmates with blood. As everyone else in her class is trying to make sense of it, Katherine Langford's Mara reacts to the first death with ironic detachment.

This is a risk. It's like doing a slasher film where we're laughing at the killer BEFORE he has to be scary. It can be pulled off, but a layer of difficultly has just been added. And the movie has to do that while continuing to absurdly blow up its cast.

Oh. And it's also a love story. It's a really heartfelt romance that blossoms between Mara and Charlie Plummer's Dylan. He's admired her from afar for a while, but when the exploding classmates make everyone feel like they could go at any time, Dylan takes his shot, and for a while they go through the expected moments of teenage romance, until the pandemic takes over and accelerates their story in a different direction.

There's a sequence an hour into the film that's balls-out insane - it's comedy, horror and tragedy all in one perfect symphony that would be ruined if any single instrument was off-key. I don't want to say anything about it for fear of diluting the sequence's impact, but I consider it a major tragedy of 2020 that I couldn't experience it in a theatre full of screaming moviegoers.

I'd read the Aaron Starmer novel upon which the film is based, and as much as it worked on the page, I really wondered if the movie could blow up so many teenagers on screen and maintain the wry tone of the novel, told through Mara's eyes. It's one thing to have her say something like, "Oh, and then they blew up." It's quite enough to put that very absurd image on screen and not have it be too horrifying or too silly to keep the emotional reality going. As much as I enjoyed the novel, I think the film is sharper and more focused. It trims away a few subplots and reshapes Mara and Dylan slightly.

If you've been here a while, you'll know I've been a fan of Katherine Langford since her breakout performance in season one of 13 REASONS WHY. That was her first major role, even though I've enjoyed her in every thing she's appeared in since, she's usually been playing supporting parts that have been less challenging than Hannah Baker. SPONTANEOUS is my favorite performance of hers since that first season and she plays Mara unlike any of her other parts. With the curly blonde wig, she's almost unrecognizble as the suicidal teen she became famous for playing.

Her performance is equally unrecognizable. Langford proved she could do heavy drama on 13RW, but here she's got razor sharp comic timing and is clearly having a ball playing a broader character, one with a more sardonic edge. The best way I can describe her character here is "the love child of Michelle Williams and Busy Philipps." There's an energy to her performance that's completely apart from the shy, withdrawn teens she's played before.

The film doesn't shy away from dealing with death and the devastation it visits on those left behind. I think the ending of Mara's journey is one that doesn't deserve to be spoiled in this review, but I do want to say that after all the loss, the movie ends up in a very life-affirming place. After seeing so many people around you randomly dying, and knowing you could be next, how do you move forward with your life?

 As timely as these themes feel in a pandemic, I feel like the movie wouldn't even need that extra context to resonate so hard here. I'm not kidding when I say this film deserves to be on a lot of Best of lists at the end of the year. I'm totally available to do the door-to-door canvasing for the Oscars when the time comes.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

What it's like when your dad is going to die that morning

My dad died in the wee hours of the morning on Monday. He'd been in the hospital for about three weeks fighting COVID-19. Up until Saturday, there was never a doubt in my mind he'd be walking out of there, even after he was intubated.

The day he died, I didn't know what to do with my feelings. The next day I wrote this and posted it to Facebook. It helped to write it and seeing the responses actually was healing.

I'm posting it here in honor of the man who supported me through everything it took to get me where I am, and who really deserved to be here when I finally made it. He was 73 and in otherwise great shape until this. I will never feel like I wasn't robbed of another decade with him.


You’ve just hung up from the call. The call you’ve dreaded since he took a turn for the worse yesterday.  The doctor told you a lot of explanations and reasons and jargon for how we arrived at this moment, but all you really need to understand is this: they’re moving to comfort care. Your dad is going to die that morning.

Your brother and your mother are with him, but you are not. You’re three thousand miles away. It’s 2:58am. You’re in the living room, waiting for the next call, the one that will come when your mother and your brother are actually by his side. They’ll hold up the phone so he can hear. “Can he really hear you?” you wonder. It will be the last time you talk to him. And then they will let him go. He’ll be comfortable, but he’ll be gone before the sun comes up where you are.

This is it, so you’ll have to make those words count. But you can’t wing it, because if you fall apart you’ll forget something. You’ll get it wrong and you’ll hate yourself for the rest of your life for getting it wrong. It has to be right. Even if he can’t hear you it has to be right.

The clock in the living room ticks each second as you try to gather your thoughts. Most of the time you don’t hear it, but the house is so still that the sound travels. It just turns up the pressure. How long will it take your mother and brother to put on their gowns? That’s how long you have to figure out what to say.

There’s no rewrites. No rainbow draft. They’re not even giving you blue pages. They’re shooting the white pages of this script and you have minutes to get them to set.

There’s so much to say. No, so much you COULD say. What do you NEED to say? Better, what does he NEED to hear? Focus, this is not about you. When you hang up it can be about you. This is about him.

You figure out what was unsaid. Oh god, when he was in the hospital, did you tell him you loved him? You check your texts with him, the messages that go right up to the night before he was intubated. The guilt comes back. They stopped voice calls a week before that to preserve his oxygen, but somewhere wires got crossed and you didn’t learn until almost a week later that he was still reading and responding to texts. When you realized, you sent him pics of your son to raise his spirits. You convinced yourself it was just a few days missed, that he’d be fine.

Now you wish you had those days back. But you see the last text you sent that he saw: “Love you too.” You breathe, and then you remember that you said that to him in at least two of your phone calls to him. You’re not sure if you did on that one. The one that freaked you out a little bit.

It is 3:20am. You think you’ve found the words. Why haven’t they called? What’s taking them so long? You find yourself impatient for a moment you dreaded, only because you’re afraid of losing it all.

It is 3:35am. The phone buzzes. This is it. Once you take the call it becomes real. You take that last second and put on your game face.

They put your brother’s phone to his ear. You think about how it’s easier to do this without having to see him and then immediately curse yourself for such selfishness. It’s not about YOU.

You start by reminding him of your call yesterday. Then one where you knew they wanted you to say goodbye. You’re terrible at goodbyes so you told him you weren’t going to say goodbye. Instead, you told him about your big show. You told him about the dreams coming true. The ones he’d helped nurture in you. 

And then you reminded him of a favorite movie quote – that moment in DUMB & DUMBER when Jim Carrey is told his chances with the girl are “one in a million” and his instant response was “so you’re saying there’s a chance!” Dad loved that quote. He used it all the time. You remember that time when your school was threatened with closure and the odds of stopping it were just as long. Dad was one of the people whose attitude was “So you’re saying there’s a chance.” You reminded him of this. You told him he had to believe it. You told him he had to believe it because YOU believed it.

But that was last night. Tonight you start by reminding him you said you weren’t going to say goodbye, but this is goodbye. God, this was so much easier in your head. Speaking it outloud, it becomes a incantation that summons all the feelings you’re not ready to deal with. You breathe.

You tell him not to worry. That you’ll be okay. Mom will be okay because she’ll have us. We’ll take care of each other, you promise him.

You tell him you were glad you got to talk when he was in the hospital. You say you enjoyed those talks. You know he’ll know what it means – the talk that freaked you out because you could feel him trying to tie up loose ends just in case. The one where he kept saying how much you impressed him and you just wanted him to stop because all you heard was the subtext “I need to say this in case I die.” The one where the only way to deal with it was to become modest and self-deprecating.

And then you tell him you’ve been thinking about his favorite movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Specifically, you’ve been thinking of the quote he used in your grandfather’s funeral 26 years earlier: “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” You tell him, “Dad, you are loved.” You tell him “I love you” and it hurts because you know it’s the last time he’ll hear you say it. 

You tell him goodbye.

You hear your brother say his goodbyes and the pain in his voice makes you wish you could do anything to comfort him. This is not how you imagined this moment ever going down.

You expect that your mother will be next, but you can’t hear anything. Is she whispering? Did she speak to him privately? You wonder what’s happening. Eventually you decide this is where they’re making him comfortable. Where your mother and brother will be with him. Should you be with them? Will it help? 

You can’t do this. You’re not there. You can’t see him. You’re a blind phantom, unable to touch or see anything, only hear the silence of a life slipping away. This is not helping. You tell them you have to go.

It is 3:50am. You go to bed. Your wife tries to offer comfort, but there’s no comfort to be found. This is going to hurt. You toss and turn. How can you not be tired this late? How are you not exhausted?

Why can’t you cry enough right now? You remember that insane cathartic cry you got watching that ER episode where Anthony Edwards died. The one where his daughter played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for him as he passed. Shit! Why didn’t you think of that an hour ago? Why didn’t YOU suggest playing that song for Dad? That would have been perfect. If you’d given it more thought during those fifteen minutes you were impatient, you might have come up with it.

You wonder if it’s too late to call and suggest it. You decide to let it go. 

Shit. That would have been so perfect. You kick yourself again.

It is later. You are still trying to sleep. Suddenly, with your eyes closed you see something that looks like golden starbursts. They’re not afterimages. You know what afterimages look like. This is different. And as they pulse you feel the slightest tapping on your eyelids. It’s not normal. But it has to be normal because you don’t believe in this stuff. You’re not Mulder, you’re Scully. You’re not spiritual.

But you check the clock anyway, just in case. It is 4:46am. If you don’t believe, then why did you check? Was it him?

You don’t remember falling asleep, but you must have because now you’re being awakened by the email alert on your phone. It’s Mom. A mass email to spread the word. It says he died this morning at about 8:00am, meaning 5:00am where you are. 

Later you’ll tell your brother about the experience. You’ll feel stupid and silly. You think he’ll see you as a drama queen trying to make it about you, or boasting that “Dad reached out to me!” It’s neither, you just have to know. He tells you Dad died at about five minutes before eight, but that 4:45 was about when they stopped the ventilator. He'll later tell you that was the minute he felt like he saw the spirit leaving his body, even mentioning that to your mother.

Was it him? Was he telling you he knew what you said? That he knew that you loved him? You think about this until you realize of course he knew you loved him. He’s your dad.

No, the past tense hits you, he WAS your dad.

No, you realize, he will ALWAYS be your dad.

And you will always love him.

Sunday, November 1, 2020


Thank you to everyone who has watched CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS so far, especially those of you who were there RIGHT when it dropped Friday night. Reading your tweets all weekend has been fantastic for my mood. I couldn't be more delighted with how it was received.

It's online until November 8th, so check it out if you haven't already. Tickets here.

I thought it'd be fun to go through my original script and point out all the inside jokes, references and callbacks.

In most instances, the hyperlinked text will lead you to a video clip of the reference in question.

If you have yet to download the script, you can find it here.

After you click that link, press ONLY the button that says "Download" next to the script title, and ignore any pop-ups you get or any messages telling you that your Adobe Flash is out of date.


p. 1 - "Turn, Turn, Turn" is a song used more than once on THE WONDER YEARS.

p. 1 - This opening, and the entire sequence on "Earth-03" is an homage to the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS comic book, which opens with destruction of Earth-3. That Earth is populated by evil dopplegangers of the JLA, known as the Crime Syndicate. Dramatically, it was to kill off some notable characters, and show that Superman, Wonder Woman, et al, would have gone down just as quickly.

In this case, at the time of writing the script, I had only seen about 6-8 episodes of THE OC and wasn't sure I could capture the voices of the characters. I decided to destroy them early on to up the stakes, though very soon after, I binged the entire series.

p. 1 - THE OC scene we're dropped into specifically is from the season 2 finale, "The Dearly Beloved."

p. 2 - Pariah is a character in the original CRISIS whose role is basically be be drawn to each dying Earth. He cries a lot too. 

p. 2 - Dawson Leery, from DAWSON'S CREEK, is intended to be a Dawson from 2020. The finale of his series was set in 2008, five years in the future from its airdate of 2003. This means he's lived twelve years since the last time we saw him.

p. 2 - Marissa shooting Trey is one of those pop culture moments that you're probably aware of even if you haven't seen it. It was spoofed - with the "Hide and Seek" music - in an SNL sketch.

p. 3 - the Narrator is a riff on The Monitor from CRISIS. Harbinger is also a CRISIS character. In that story, she was rescued from death as a child by the Monitor and was raised as his assistant. In the first issue, her role was to gather the heroes.

p. 3 - We get our first clue to Harbinger's identity when we're told her universe had wild fluxuations in its history. That MIGHT mean she's from a show that tends to retcon its own history, or fails to remain consistent season to season.

p. 3 - our second clue to Harbinger's identity is when she says to the Monitor, "You're an actual nerd." That's something that the character playing Harbinger says in one of her first scenes in her first episode. I thought this was a subtle clue that no one would catch, but one reader actually nailed that hint pretty quickly.

p. 4 - The Monitor/Narrator is Kevin Arnold. He's described in his 40s, so you should be imagining a modern Fred Savage. In terms of Kevin's timeline, he's always 20 years behind our present, so that means he would have come from (as he later says) the year 2000.

p. 4 - On RIVERDALE, Veronica has described her pairing with Archie as "endgame." I don't have a specific point in RIVERDALE's history that they're being taken from, but it's probably the latter half of Season 2.

p. 4 - "Welcome to your crisis" is one of my less subtle clues about Harbinger's identity.

p. 5 - And now we're in GILMORE GIRLS, the intent is that we're in Season 3. 

p. 6 - As the script notes, Tristan is the character Chad Michael Murray played on GILMORE GIRLS, mostly in season 1. He often called Rory "Mary" (Lorelai explains "as in 'Virgin Mary.' It means they thought you were a goody-goody.") Rory notices right away he doesn't, which is a clue.

p. 7 - Lorelai's Ari Fleisher joke is intended to remind people we're in the early 2000s, when he was the press secretary for the George W. Bush administration. The fact Richard brings up she's been warned about insulting him this means this is set in season 3 AFTER "Let the Games Begin," where Richard chides her, "Ari Fleischer is our nation's mouthpiece, young lady."

p. 7 - Lorelai's joke about "Jeff Goldblum's transporter" is a reference to THE FLY remake. Rory saying "Help me" is a reference to the most infamous line of the original version.

p. 8 - Tristan is revealed to ACTUALLY be "Charlie," who was a character Chad Michael Murray played on season 5 of DAWSON'S CREEK.

p. 8 - Harbinger is finally revealed as Hannah Baker from 13 REASONS WHY. "It's Hannah. Hannah Baker" is a callback to her first line of dialogue heard in the series.

p. 9 - We're in EVERWOOD, obviously. The Ferris Wheel on the front lawn places us just seconds after the series finale. (which means they're from 2006.)

p. 10 - Ephram's interest in manga is a trait established in the EVERWOOD pilot. Amy pronouncing it that way is also a callback to how Ephram says it in the pilot.

p. 10 - Gino Chang's (misspelled in the script as Gino Chan's) is the combination Italian/Chinese restaurant established in EVERWOOD's second episode, "The Great Doctor Brown."

p. 10 - Aside from his interest in comics, there's a bit of an in-joke about Ephram getting the concept of a multiversal crisis, as the actor playing Ephram, Gregory Smith, is now a director whose credits include "Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 5" and "Crisis on Earth-X" part 4. (Both of those are episodes of LEGENDS OF TOMORROW.)

p. 12 - Amy teasing Ephram about once having purple hair is another callback to the pilot, where that hair style made Ephram a target of teasing upon his arrival in Everwood.

p. 13 - Kevin references Taylor Townsend, a character from THE OC.

p. 15 - Archie and Veronica have landed in the middle of the "Donna Martin graduates" episode of BEVERLY HILLS, 90210, season 3's "Something in the Air."

p. 15 - Archie thinking that Dylan McKay looks like his dad is an in-joke about how Luke Perry played both parts.

p. 16 - another doppleganger referencing the same actor having appeared on multiple shows. In this case, Kerr Smith, who was Ryan Thomas on LIFE UNEXPECTED and Principal Honey on RIVERDALE, which is why Archie mistakes the former for the latter.

p. 18 - Dark Monitor offering literary quotes is a clue to his identity. (And at least two people tweeted a correct guess at me after I originally posted these pages.)

p. 19 - The prisoners in Dark Monitor's jail are all characters played by actors who've also appeared on genre shows. Chris Wolfe was played by Jason Behr, who appeared on ROSWELL as Max Evans. Cate Cassidy was played by Shiri Appleby, who also appeared on ROSWELL as Liz Parker, and Dean Forrester was played by Jared Padelcki, who was Sam Winchester on Supernatural.

p. 20 - Kevin again references Harbinger's world having wild inconsistencies in its history. That MIGHT be me taking a small poke at a lot of the irreconcilable retcons in Season 2 of 13 REASONS WHY.

p. 22 - The "friend" who Hannah says Ephram reminds her of is obviously Clay Jensen. (And I'm really sorry I couldn't figure out a way to do a Clay/Ephram meeting somewhere in here.)

p. 22 - as we arrive in ONE TREE HILL, the reference to it being summer is meant to place us soon after the season 4 finale, after all the kids have graduated school.

p. 22 - "Go Brooke Yourself" is OTH slang for "Go fuck yourself." It passed into use after Brooke was caught masturbating and the gang joked about how often they "Brooke themselves" in season 3's "When It Isn't Like It Should Be."

p. 23 - If you saw the live read, this scene got a rewrite. Haley James Scott was removed in an effort to cut down the characters and streamline the story. (That killed me because Haley was my favorite OTH character and Bethany Joy Lenz was one of my bigger WB crushes.)

p. 23 - Haley recognizing Dawson is consistent with her being established as a DAWSON'S CREEK fan in the pilot of ONE TREE HILL.

p. 23 - Dawson references "Clothes Over Bros," the fashion line Brooke started in high school.

p. 25 - Veronica Mars being 32 indicates the Gilmore Girls are meeting her at some point AFTER the conclusion of the Hulu season. (Which is unofficially Season 4.)

p. 26 - Veronica references Vinnie Van Lowe, the sleazy PI played by Ken Marino.

p. 28 - Two famous mother/daughter pairings are referenced: Demi Moore and Rumer Willis, and Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

Sidebar: With p. 28, we start some sequences that I ended up altering for the live read. The motivation was mostly to reduce the number of characters overall, since it was such a giant cast. I went through to see where we could eliminate or combine some characters just to ease casting and to give some actors more to do.

For this PRETTY LITTLE LIARS sequence, I replaced Aria with Taylor Townsend from THE OC. We also added Brooke Davis from ONE TREE HILL to the team of Hannah Baker and Amy Abbott. This was all a consequence of removing the KATY KEENE sequence that begins on p. 37. It meant we could cut Josie and Aria entirely as long as Brooke got captured a different way. By dropping the idea of Aria/Katy as dopplegangers and Aria pretending to be Katy it let the PLL sequence advance the plot a little more on its own.

(I had some concerns about making Taylor evil, but I justified it by having her say this was just to get her world back and it's implied that she would have been taken from the point in THE OC's timeline that coincided with the opening sequence, meaning this predates her first appearance on the show in season three, before her redemption arc.)

p. 28 - The Masquerade Ball that Hannah and Amy have arrived in is the second season finale of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, "Unmasked."

p. 28 - Amy's line here (and a later joke on p. 29) are meta jokes about how the actress playing her, Emily VanCamp, later starred in REVENGE, in which she often wore expensive gowns and was obsessed with revenge on the people who destroyed her family.

p. 28 - The significance of Maya being played by Bianca Lawson is that Lawson spent over two decades playing teenagers on a host of teen dramas, including BUFFY, DAWSON'S CREEK, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and TEEN WOLF.

p. 29-30 - As Amy recounts the drama that spanned the first two years of EVERWOOD, she's unaware that Hannah endured severe bullying and depression (shown in Season 1 of 13 REASONS WHY) before that led her to take her own life.

p. 31 - Maya's death is revealed in the final scene of the aforementioned season two finale of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS.

p. 33 - Rory references Lane, her best friend on GILMORE GIRLS.

p. 34 - Veronica giving her age as 32 confirms that she's from the year 2020, 14 years after graduating high school in 2006 at the age of 18.

p. 35 - Veronica referring to this year as "pretty outlandish" probably indicates this is happening in Season 2 of VERONICA MARS. 

(In the live read, Wallace's role is replaced with Mac.)

p. 36 - Josie would of course recognize Veronica Lodge from Riverdale, but doesn't seem to notice this Veronica is at least five years younger than she should be.

p. 37 - Katy Keene is played by Lucy Hale, who also plays Aria Montgomery.

p. 40 - Two changes were made to this sequence for the live read: Haley James Scott was replaced with Veronica Lodge, since Veronica's trip to Katy Keene's world no longer happened. Also, instead of taking Santana, Ephram and Veronica grab Sue Sylvester as the world fades out.

p. 43 - Lucas Scott realizing he was "the puppeteer" and that Brooke was one of "my characters" might suggest he has a lot in common with a showrunner. Make of that what you will.

p. 43 - When talking about finding Brooke in the back of his car naked after a game, Lucas is referencing the third episode of ONE TREE HILL, "Are You True?"

p. 46 - Winnie Cooper is of course, Kevin Arnold's girlfriend from THE WONDER YEARS and her age also indicates she'd be from the same time frame as our adult Kevin.

p. 51 - Kevin says that Lucas Scott could be an Avatar of his show's creator, which is what gives him the power to bend the rules of the story. ONE TREE HILL was created by Mark Schwahn.

p. 51 - Kevin observing that "The forces controlling your world have frequently tried to debase and degrade you and the other women you know. They've made so many attempts to destroy your character. But it never lasts - you and the other girls always overcome it. No matter the degradation, your true nature remains intact. Your integrity always wins out" might be an unsublte way of saying that inconsistent plots and out-of-character writing still aren't enough to destroy the female characters of ONE TREE HILL, thanks in no small part to their performers.

p. 56 - Kevin lamenting he gave up piano playing is a callback to THE WONDER YEARS episode "Coda."

p. 56 - Ephram has been a piano prodigy most of his life, so he's not wrong to say this song is beneath his talent.

p. 56 - "I Don't Want to Wait" is, obviously, the theme song to DAWSON'S CREEK.

p. 58 - This is a pretty obvious connection to make, but if Ephram is an Avatar of his creator, that would mean he's connected to producer Greg Berlanti.

p. 59-60 - LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, SUPERGIRL, THE FLASH, BLACK LIGHTNING and BATWOMAN are all shows produced by Berlanti Productions and Greg Berlanti, hence, Ephram has access to them.

p. 60 - Veronica Mars thinking she recognizes Black Lightning is a reference to the fact that the hero's portrayer, Cress Williams, had a recurring role in the second season of VERONICA MARS as Wallace's father.

p. 60 - Lorelei's "Oy with the froggies already" is a reference to the phrase coined by Lorelei, "Oy with the poodles already" in the season two finale of GILMORE GIRLS, "I Can't Get Started."

p. 61 - "I Don't Want To Wait" was the theme song to DAWSON'S CREEK, at least in the States during the first airing. In streaming, it's been replaced by the international theme song "Run Like Mad."

p. 62 - On ONE TREE HILL, Peyton Sawyer drove a Comet.

p. 63 - Joey Potter's line, "People die... and they move away... and they grow up, Dawson. Everything changes eventually" is drawn from the season one episode of DAWSON'S CREEK, "Beauty Pageant." Jen Lindley's quote, "Impossible situations are only made better by doing something about them," originates from the season three finale "True Love."

p. 64 -  Lucas saying "It's you, Peyton Sawyer," and her responding "It's always been me" is a callback to Lucas saying (in a completely different context) "It's you, Peyton Sawyer. It's always been you" in ONE TREE HILL's season 4 episode, "Some You Give Away."

p. 64 - If you want to read some metatextual intent into an adult Peyton Sawyer being the one to vanquish her creator, I won't stop you.

p. 65-66 - Haley James Scott from ONE TREE HILL has indeed been married since her junior year, as revealed in the first season finale "The Games That Play Us." She also became a pop star the following season.

p. 66 - Supergirl being excited for a group sing and seeking out Barry/The Flash calls back to the musical SUPERGIRL/THE FLASH crossover in THE FLASH's third season episode "Duet."

p. 66 - you all know this but "Don't Stop Believin'" is the signature song from GLEE. It's first performed in the pilot and then performed four subsequent times in the series.

p. 69 - Jack Arnold's date of death being in 1975 is consistent with Kevin's final episode narration revealing Jack died two years after the end of the series.

p. 69 - The events in the Liberty High Gym on April 20, 2018 are shown in the climax of the season two finale of 13 REASONS WHY, "Bye." Specifically, Hannah arrives in the midst of this heartbreaking scene:

"The Night We Met" is a significant song for Clay and Hannah, as it's the song they danced together to a year earlier at the Spring Fling.

During season 2 of 13 REASONS WHY frequently talked with a Ghost Hannah that only he could see and hear. She wasn't a literal ghost, and was intended more as a dramatization of his own thoughts about Hannah and what he learned about her. He finally lets go of her in a eulogy at her funeral service in the season 2 finale, and that's visualized by her apparition getting up and walking out of the church.

By noting the resurrected Hannah is wearing the same dress, I wanted to give an open door for the reader to assume that the "Ghost Hannah" was actually Harbinger/Hannah, interacting with Clay while she still existed in some sense.

p. 70 - In the actual episode, Tyler nearly takes his weapons into school before being talked down by Clay. It sets off a chain of events that reverberates through the next two seasons and destroys a lot of lives. Here, Hannah alters that event, hopefully to Clay's benefit.

p. 72 - "Katie Couric time" is a callback to Dawson revealing (joking?) in the pilot of DAWSON' S CREEK that he gratifies himself in the morning, "usually to Katie Couric."

p. 72 - Joey's nephew Alexander was born in season one's "Baby," set in 1998, so this would be his COLLEGE graduation Joey references, just in case you weren't feeling old enough.

p. 72 - Joey promising Dawson she'll watch his show every week, "At least until you run out of ideas and do something crazy like make all the kids murderers" describes the missteps of multiple teen shows. Take your pick as to what she's alluding to.

p. 73 - Joey DID turn in her drug dealing father in season 2's finale "Parental Discretion Advised."

p. 73 - On DAWSON'S CREEK, Joey and Dawson often watched movies together in his bed, and given his Spielberg fandom, it makes sense they would have watched most of them together.

p. 73 - Dawson saying that INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL "disappoints" calls back to how Dawson described the less successful Spielberg films when showing Jen his room in the pilot. The producers were allowed to use Spielberg's movie posters after Spielberg himself gave permission, and so as to not offend him him, creator Kevin Williamson decided, "we don't say 'flops,' we say 'disappointments.'"


Thank you to everyone who watched CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS, especially those who were there RIGHT when it dropped at 5pm. Your texts and tweets during the show and right after it ended told me that plenty of you tuned in and that really made me feel good.

If you saw my Outro, you know that I dedicated the show to my father, who is currently battling COVID-19 in the hospital. He's been on a ventilator since Tuesday, sedated, and this is obviously a very difficult time for my family. Your kind thoughts at this time have been much appreciated. Please keep them up in this very rough time for us, either prayers, well-wishes, or whatever is in accordance with your belief system. 

I was glad to see so much praise for Ben Blacker's production and Laser Webber's editing. I hadn't seen the final product until Friday and they gave that Zoom read so much production value. I'm thrilled it didn't go unnoticed by all of you because they busted their asses to make this something special. Ditto for Paul and Storm, who were responsible for that amazing "Don't Stop Believin'" music number at the climax.

The show is still available until November 8th, so if you haven't seen it, you've still got a week. Tickets are $10 here. All proceeds going to:

1) The Hollywood Support Staff Relief Fund - This has been established by the Actors Fund to benefit L.A. based support staffers affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. I'm a Writers' Assistant on SUPERMAN & LOIS, and I'm very fortunate to have a job right now. Many of my peers aren't as fortunate and I really want to help them out with this show. Please give generously. You'll be helping a lot of future TV writers stay in the game.

2) The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation - This is a non-profit that does legal work to protect the land rightfully owned by the descendants of former slaves as well as ecologic and economic work to sustain those properties and their communities. Basically, they help underserved families protect land that the government or rich white people want to take from them and exploit.

You can donate more than the cost of the ticket if you want. Just buy more tickets. It's not as if there's limited seating.

If  you saw the show, please keep talking it up. If you haven't seen the show, I can promise you a good time, but don't take MY word for it. Here are some of the reactions:

But if I'm being completely honest, this is a tweet I could never have imagined receiving just a few years ago...

Thank you all for your support. It's been an insane year and I'm lucky to have shared it with all of you.

Friday, October 30, 2020

How Greg Berlanti helped make CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS an EVERWOOD reunion

The EVERWOOD reunion in tonight's CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS Zoom live read came about because I broke one of the most unbreakable rules in showing your scripts. With every other script I've ever written, I've never shown it to anyone with any standing in the business until AT LEAST four people have read it - usually many more.

When I sent CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS to Greg Berlanti, NO ONE had read it in full, not even my wife. It was one of those scripts that was just so dense, and so inside baseball that I couldn't really thinking of anyone in my trusted circle who would "get it." But I was putting it out there publicly and I was playing with some of Greg's most beloved characters. Also, if you go back to the first day of reactions to the initial pages I posted, you'll see that Jonathan Gabay, an executive at Berlanti Productions was one of the first people to be intrigued by this concept, telling me, "I need this script finished asap." Since I was sending it to Jonathan, there was really no reason NOT to send it to Greg, at least as a heads-up.

Within days, Greg replied he couldn't wait to read it over the weekend and that it sounded awesome. I'd mentioned that Ben Blacker was already on board to produce this as a live-read fundraiser, and so Greg generously said if we needed help from anyone on his team, we should let him know. When I asked, he said he'd be happy to make a few calls. 

During the planning, I discovered one trait of Greg's that might explain some of his success. It was the first phone call with me, Greg Berlanti, Ben Blacker and Gregory Smith as we were hashing out the best way to do this live read. Greg Berlanti jumps on the call, and very quickly he's saying things like, "I think this could be something really special! You could raise a lot of money with this, do a lot of good! I think it's the kind of thing people need right now with the state of the world and it'd be a really fun show!"

It felt like he was selling ME on MY script! Obviously I agreed with him, but hearing him say that got me even more charged up to do it - and I think that's the point. It's like a coach giving the halftime speech to the team, it just brings up the energy immensely. If there's one thing I've learned from Greg it's to be the most enthusiastic person in the room. Be that beacon of positivity. Be the one who believes the most in what you're doing because people WILL follow you.

I've had bosses in this business who seemed to exist in a state of permanent jadedness and world-wearyness. Every move came from a cynical place. Even if they were right, they didn't fire you up about what you're working on. In the entertainment industry, you have to be the biggest believer in what you're working if you're ever going to make something people care about.

Anyway, within a couple weeks it was official - Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp were onboard. I - perhaps one of the biggest EVERWOOD fans alive - had written something that would be a mini-EVERWOOD reunion.

As protective as some actors are of their iconic roles, I knew to temper my hopes as far as getting anyone to reprise their role. I really don't think that Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp would have returned without the script having Greg's blessing. It really meant a lot to have three of the most important people in EVERWOOD put their weight behind this.

How did I get to the point of being able to email Greg Berlanti directly? Well, it started with Twitter.

A quick look at my archives will substantiate that I've been writing about EVERWOOD for a long time, and that it's not the only one of Greg's shows I've raved about. Whenever one of those posts went live, I'd tag Greg on the tweet promoting it. Greg's not particularly active on Twitter, so I never got the kind of interaction I'd had with some other showrunners, but every now and then he'd send a brief reply of thanks.

Then one day out of the blue, he followed me on Twitter. It was strange because I hadn't engaged or tweeted anything that should have caught his eye. My best guess is that maybe he saw my breakdown of the EVERWOOD pilot, which I'd posted about a month earlier. There was no interaction then, but it's important because it meant almost exactly a year later, I was able to DM him directly.

I was setting up a live read of THE MAKING OF STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII, a script I'd written with Brian Michael Scully. The occasion was my ten year anniversary as the Bitter Script Reader and I decided to mark the event by throwing a live read and inviting the many Twitter friends I'd made, and some of the professional contacts I had yet to meet in person.

To that end, I sent Greg a DM that read something like, "please excuse this one-time intrusion into your DMs, but I'm doing this live read as part of an anniversary celebration. I'm inviting a lot of people I've met via Twitter. Your work's meant a lot to me for a long time. It's part of the reason I want to be a writer and it'd be an honor to have you."

And then I waited to get unfollowed. But that didn't happen. Four or five days later, I woke up to a DM from Greg that began, "First of all, I'm touched you asked. And by all means this doesn't need to be an intrusion so write anytime." He went on to tell me that he had a conflict with that date - and it was a legit conflict - but he'd try to send someone from his company.

I wrote back to thank him and that I was glad it wasn't annoying. I mentioned that at the moment, I was working at Warners, so at least now I knew not to be shy if I ran into him on the lot.  On the day of the show, Greg sent me a message wishing me luck and saying that since I was on the lot, maybe I could stop by the office sometime and say hi.

Well, I'm not gonna say no to that, am I?

What eventually happened was we agreed to meet for coffee on the lot, and I learned something valuable from that. I got to meet Greg outside his office and then within like thirty seconds our chit-chat led me to bring up my son... and we discovered our kids are literally just days apart in age, so as Dad's we were dealing with the exact same things, same TV shows they were obsessed with and so on.

At this point, I'm pretty good at not being star struck, but I always worry I'll make a fool of myself in front of someone who's work I've really been into. By meeting Greg on neutral territory and having the conversation go the way it did, I didn't feel like I was meeting "Greg Berlanti, most prolific TV producer." I was talking to "Greg Berlanti, fellow dad" and from that moment on, it was like talking to a new friend who I was on equal footing with. When you're taking a general meeting that you're nervous about, try to find some way to get to that place in the conversation.

And then we went back to the office anyway. Greg said, "I want to know what you're writing now, your two best scripts, and what shows you're really into at the moment." My technique for answering was to make sure there was a thruline that ran through all of these. In other words, figure out how your favorite shows relate to what you've written before, and how all of that informs what you're writing now. As a bonus, if you can make all of that relevant to the person you're talking to, that's gold.

After I weaved through those answers, Greg said, "Okay, let's skip to the end of the meeting and then we can just chat for 40 minutes. I'm gonna give you my email. Send me your two best scripts. Give me a couple weeks to read them because we're about to work on some pilots, but after that we'll have hired some new execs for staffing and then I can pass what I like onto them, if that's okay."

If that's okay? Yeah, I think I'll be fine with you reading my work personally and then considering me for staffing.

I sent him my teen drama thriller pilot and my 13 REASONS WHY/AWAKE spec. Since at least ten minutes of our meeting ended up discussing THE MAKING OF STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII, I also included that, while specifying it was independent of my submissions. I was just sending to him in case he was curious.

He read all three - which means that even before Greg read CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS, he'd read more of my work than every showrunner I've worked for - put together! 

As it turned out, that staffing season wasn't my year. Had some meetings with his execs and one of his showrunners, but didn't get it. I kept up contact with Greg and ultimately, when SUPERMAN & LOIS came along, I was offered Writers' Assistant.

That was a no-brainer. My favorite character in a series produced by one of my favorite writer/producers? It felt like destiny that after all the time I waited to break in, THIS was going to be it.

And this is where I've buried the lede. I can't tell you anything about the episode's plot. I can't even tell you which episode it will be, but by the end of first season of SUPERMAN & LOIS, you will see an episode with the credit, "Written by Adam Mallinger."

(That's me, in case you forgot already. Craig Byrne at KSiteTV was the first to break the news in this interview with me today.)

My first episode of television is going to be a Superman episode. This is something like 35 years of my life in the making. There are so many things in my life that have led up to the developments of the last couple months that if my life was a TV show, I'd feel like this was the endgame leading to the series finale.

I hope you all enjoy the show tonight. The entire act of making this program is an experience that has meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A couple CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS interviews and show details

 Hi all! I hope you're all excited for the Zoom live-read of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS, dropping tomorrow at 5pm PT.

Since some people have been confused about this, I want to make it clear that you don't HAVE to watch it right when it drops. The show will be available until November 8th. If you have Halloween plans for tomorrow, you can watch it any time this weekend or next week. Tickets are $8 + $2 service charge and the money raised will be spilt between two great charities:

1) The Hollywood Support Staff Relief Fund - This has been established by the Actors Fund to benefit L.A. based support staffers affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. I'm a Writers' Assistant on SUPERMAN & LOIS, and I'm very fortunate to have a job right now. Many of my peers aren't as fortunate and I really want to help them out with this show. Please give generously. You'll be helping a lot of future TV writers stay in the game.

2) The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation - This is a non-profit that does legal work to protect the land rightfully owned by the descendants of former slaves as well as ecologic and economic work to sustain those properties and their communities. Basically, they help underserved families protect land that the government or rich white people want to take from them and exploit.

You can donate more than the cost of the ticket if you want. Just buy more tickets. It's not as if there's limited seating.

I've done a few recent interviews about taking the mask off as The Bitter Script Reader and hyping CRISIS in general. Here's a round-up

1) Over at Go Into the Story, longtime blog buddy Scott Myers and I had a chat about how The Bitter Script Reader came to be, what the deal was with the Bitter Puppet, what it takes to be a good writers' assistant and more.

2) I appeared on video at Pendemic TV to hype CRISIS and also talk a little bit about my career as a reader. You can go here or just watch the embedded video.

3) I was a guest on Transporter Room 3, a Star Trek podcast. Again I was hyping CRISIS and then we turned to a discussion of one of my favorite DEEP SPACE NINE episodes, the baseball comedy "Take Me Out To The Holosuite. And we also get into how DS9 radicalized me against the George W. Bush Administration. Go here to hear the episode.

Friday, October 23, 2020

My "big break" that wasn't

I'm about to talk about something that I imagine a lot of fellow Writers Assistants can relate to - the close calls with what should have been your "big break."

The current way of making TV has changed the way one advances quite a bit. Fewer shows do 22 episodes a year, which in the old days, would have been enough to keep one employed for almost the entire year and also meant many more opportunities for an assistant to get a script assignment.

Today, shows are getting shorter order. Those 22 slots are shrunk down to 13. Or 10. Or 8. When you couple that with the size of the staff and the fact that many upper levels come onto a show with a contractual guarantee for a certain number of scripts, those extra slots that went to assistants in the past have disappeared.

Another reality that assistants have to deal with is that in general, you advance upwards on the same show. It's rare to advance laterally by moving onto a new show. This means that if you put in enough time on Show A, you might be rewarded with an assignment in a later season. But what happens what that series is a 10-episode order for streaming? That means it's only about 4 months of work and the show won't reassemble the writers room until as much as a year later, IF it gets picked up. Odds are, that assistant is going to have to jump onto a different show, and then another show. It how you get stuck at the same level.

This is why I beg you that if you run across a writers' assistant who's been at this for 7, 8, 9 years, DON'T ask them, "So why haven't you gotten a script/been staffed yet?" with the implication that if they were any good, it would have happened.

There was a moment where I was convinced I'd gotten a winning lotto ticket. Jeff Lieber hired me as the Writers' PA on the second season of NCIS: NEW ORLEANS and one of the first things I learned was that Jeff wants all the support staff to get writing credits. This was something I could verify by looking at the credits on his prior shows. Jeff's episodes would always be co-written with an assistant, usually with them earning co-story credit the first time around. Two assistants had gotten their chance on the first season of NOLA in season one, with one of them being advanced to Staff Writer for season two.

So as I came onto the show that season, that meant that I was third in line for a co-write with Jeff - the Script Coordinator and the Writers' Assistant were ahead of me. Looking at how the schedule shook out, it was extremely likely Jeff was going to write at least three eps in a 24-episode season and so I started on that job thinking, "Holy shit! By the end of this year, my name's going to be on an hour of television seen by millions of people."

Obviously, that didn't happen.

Jeff wrote the season premiere solo for reasons not worth getting into here. His second script was a collaboration with Katherine Beattie, our Script Coordinator. She eventually got a much overdue promotion to staff a couple seasons later. Alas, before a third episode could come up, Jeff and the show had parted ways. The new showrunner arrived after mid-season and at that point, had little interest in following through on any kind of mentorship that Jeff had established. Bye, bye episode.

And by the end of the season, bye, bye job. Here's the thing about TV, as my friend and mentor Javier Grillo-Marxuach is prone to saying, "You serve at the pleasure of the showrunner." That's the gig. It's the showrunner's prerogative to choose his own staff. When you sign on for the gig, you have to accept that. The point is that after 24 episodes of TV, I was out looking for a new job.

All I have to say about how I was let go is that it came in the form of a phone call on the first day of hiatus - after many conversations had specifically led me to believe I was going to be back the next season. This also was less than three months after I became a father.

Completely within the showrunner's prerogative to do that... but a heads-up might have been nice. A conversation a few weeks out to the effect of, "Hey, I know you just had a baby, but I'm going to be making some changes next season. I wanted to let you know so you're not blindsided" would have been a stand-up way to handle it.

I might add that if someone was an upper level writer/producer on the show and found out, say six weeks earlier that the showrunner was going to make this change, the honorable thing to do would be been to pull the WPA into your office and say, "If you repeat this, I'll kill you, but they're not bringing you back next year and they're not telling you until hiatus. After all you've done this season, I feel like you at least deserve to know."

I'm saying this because TV assistants work hard, and I think they work harder now than they used to with a much smaller chance of that script assignment coming soon. They have to change jobs more often, "play their dues" longer, and then even after they get the assignment, find it harder to be promoted to staff on these shorter-running series.

The absolute least thing that the people they're working for can do for them is to treat them honorably and be straightforward with them. They've earned that.

I should add that the showrunner reinstated the policy of assistants rewriting the following season. As far as I can tell, everyone who was on the support staff after me got a writing credit. This means I have the distinction of being the ONLY assistant on NCIS: NEW ORLEANS who never earned any kind of writing credit or script assignment.

The "big breaks" don't always turn out the way you imagine. You just gotta pick yourself up and move on to the next one.