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.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

More lessons I learned as a showrunner of my college TV show

 Part 1

In Part 1, I alluded to scheduling issues. It's important to realize that Denison University was providing no support at all beyond letting us use the closed circuit channel. Cameras had to be borrowed from the Library Resource Center or - as became more common as the season went on - from the personal equipment of cast and crew. This also meant that everything we did for this was on our own time and we were asking our cast to participate on THEIR own time.

My fellow writer/producer/directors on the show were Adam Ziegler and Jeff Grieshober. We wrote episodes in a round robin rotation with a fourth writer. For season one, the gimmick was that it was an "exquisite corpse" method of writing. I wrote the first episode, established the characters and storylines, and made sure several of them ended on cliffhangers. I then passed it off to Jeff, whose responsibility it was to resolve those cliffhangers how ever he wanted, and then write Ziegler into a corner before passing the script on, and so on.

Ziegler and Jeff were directing their own episodes and briefly I left the responsibility for scheduling and shooting up to them. Very quickly, it became apparent that this wasn't the best way to go. Given the challenge of wrangling some actors for the same open windows in their schedule, we realized it made more sense to try to shoot scenes from two, even three episodes at once, if they were in the same location with the same characters. (We had a lot of scenes in dorm rooms, with consistent parings of characters.)

That meant I took it upon myself to schedule everything. My method became using different colored cards for each episode, and assigning each scene a card, listing the actors involved. Then I'd group all the cards by location and pin them to my bulletin board. Right away I had an immediate visual representation of which locations I'd need and for how long. Thus, if I had to schedule something in a friend's room that had been established as one of our character's dorms, and this spanned five scenes across two episodes, I'd probably aim for a weekend shoot, first clearing the location and then locking down the actors.

Visitors to my room would see this meticulously organized board of color coded cards and find themselves treated to my enthusiastic explanation of how this made production possible. Shockingly, none of them were as impressed as I was.

Nearly 15 years later, when I was working on NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, I walked in on our showrunner Jeff Lieber using one of our large white boards as he laid out the schedule for the next several episodes breaks, scripts, and production. Quite proudly, he showed me how each episode had a color and how he had staggered each stage and lined them up so that at a glance we could know EXACTLY what the room and the staff should be concerned with on a particular day. I started laughing and said that some people who worked on my college show would be very amused to see me on the receiving end of someone's ecstatic worship of their board.

You can have a laugh about this, but the truth is that this taught me an incredibly valuable skill - organization. Once we established this method, that show ran like a Swiss watch, particular when in our second round of scripts, we started writing to the things we knew were issues. Scenes with five characters became less frequent, as we focused on pairings of characters. Shorter scenes let us shoot things in oners, making post-production easier on us too. And as for the actors who were pains in our asses? We killed or sidelined them - at least until another writer would resurrect them as a twin for spite.

During season 1 of the show, I had a great idea when my second episode came around in rotation. The character we'd created to be the boyfriend of our female lead just wasn't working out. He was coming off as an asshole and it was starting to make her look bad for being with him - so I killed him off. And as that idea came to me, I had a vision for what I'd do if there was a second season of the show, one where I abandoned the round robin approach and tried being a showrunner for real.

I should explain I was writing this episode in January 2001. At that point, one of my favorite episodes of television was an episode of THE WONDER YEARS called "The Accident." It's about Kevin seeing Winnie fall in with a new group of friends and how it changes her. They're older, and it's hinted they're into drugs. There's a lot between the lines here, but there's the implication that even years later, she's not dealing well with the death of her brother and late in the episode, she's injured in a car crash. Kevin immediately rushes to her house and waits into the night for her to come home, only to be told Winnie doesn't want to see him. Later, he goes to her window and tells her he loves her, a sentiment she returns.

I'm not doing it justice, but it's a powerful, emotional episode.

Another emotionally intense episode I admired was an episode entitled "Crosetti." In it, the body of Steve Crosetti, one of the detectives, is found in the water. The immediate assumption is suicide, but Bolander is assigned to investigate, even as Crosetti's partner Lewis remains convinced that the man he worked with every day would never have killed himself. He even goes so far as to mess with Bolander's investigation, earning him an aggressive rebuke from the elder detective. But in the end, the autopsy tells the sad tale - Crosetti had taken so many pills before going into the water that he was "a walking drug store." Lewis tries to cling to denial for a moment, and then completely breaks down in tears. The first one to pull him into a bear hug... is Bolander. It's a powerful moment, and one I wish was on YouTube.

Anyway, my thoughts of a season two all led to this idea: "I get to write my 'Crosetti' or my 'Accident!'" I envisioned a storyline where Katherine, our female lead, deals badly with the murder of her boyfriend and slips into depression over the first half of the season, culminating with her friends having to come together to stage an intervention that goes badly and almost provokes a suicide attempt. I wanted to show I could write and direct something big, dramatic and emotional. I was also certain our actress was up to the challenge. So right there, that became my secret agenda for Season two.

I mentioned that this struck me in January 2001. Well, guess what hit the airwaves the very next month? An episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer called "The Body," which deals with Buffy coming home to find her mother dead of non-supernatural causes. It's a grounded, emotional tear-jerker of an episode. I was a known acolyte of Buffy's creator, Joss Whedon, and so since it wasn't until May that I started sharing my season two plans with my team, IMMEDIATELY their reaction was, "Adam wants to do 'The Body.'"

Anyway, that led me to lay out a more concrete plan for Season Two. Since season 1 had proven we could do essentially 10 half-hour episodes in a semester. I decided that we'd take our time in Season Two and produce 15 episodes across two semesters, intending eight each semester. I staked out episode 5 as the intervention episode and told the other writers that they could pitch anything they wanted, but it had to fit into that plan. Since I was getting my indulgence, I was determined to let the others indulge themselves too - mostly because I was afraid they'd quit if I didn't.

To make a long story less long, I didn't realize just how much my artistic ego was going to cost. Five straight episodes of someone falling further and further into depression makes for bleak viewing, especially when it culminates in an episode so heavy that the darker tone ripples through other episodes around it. I went too far - people enjoyed the first season of the show because it was fun and here I was giving them something heavy and depressing. It was apparent once I saw the results, but I was blind to this as I was creating it.

And do you want to know what was really funny? About a month after we started shooting, the sixth season of Buffy debuted. The storyline for that season dealt with Buffy being resurrected and dealing with depression and PTSD because her friends pulled her out of Heaven, where she was at peace. She spends essentially the whole season in varying states of depression until she claws out of it. With apologies to any writers who worked on that season, it was a very bleak and occasionally unenjoyable season to endure, particularly in the middle third.

So I'm watching one of my favorite shows, shouting at them that "How could you go so bleak? This isn't what any of us watch the show for! We don't enjoy seeing Buffy like this!" while realizing that the thing I'm screaming at them for doing is the EXACT SAME mistake I made when my artistic pretensions got away from me. I was watching my idols commit the exact same missteps I was learning from in real time. It was a weird bit of synchronicity.

This also probably explains why I so connected with the first season of 13 Reasons Why. As I watched it, I realized what they achieved there was in many ways what I was striving for during that season of my TV show. (Though obviously, I was nowhere near a good enough writer to achieve what they did.)

I wish I had a really good ending for this story, but here's the truth: while we wrote all 13 episodes of season two (two episodes of the grand plan ended up being eliminated along the way), we only ended up completing eight of them. Commitments and other projects started taking everyone's attention during our senior year and ultimately, we pulled the plug. It killed me to not finish what we started, but as I look back, the experience of making the show was its own reward far more than the completed episodes ended up being.

And I'm not exaggerating when I say that I spent more time working on the show than I did on all of my other classes, probably combined. It galvanized for me that working in TV was something I wanted to do and in a weird way, proved to me that I had kind of the head for it.

Would I have stayed in the game so long if someone told me then that 20 years down the line I'd still be trying to "make it?" I don't know, but looking back, I'm glad I didn't give up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

On how doing a live read of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS with Greg Berlanti brings twenty years of my life full circle

Last week I finally ripped off the Bitter Script Reader mask with the announcement of a live read for my script CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS. The project unites cast members from about a dozen different teen shows - including EVERWOOD's Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp in their original roles - and is produced by Ben Blacker and Greg Berlanti.

Twenty years ago this November, I was sitting in my dorm room at Denison University, writing the first episode of a TV show I was producing for the college's student-run cable network. The university was providing no support to the network, beyond letting us use the close-circuit channel for broadcasting. The production of the programs was completely the responsibility of the students making them. The university was providing neither funds nor resources. If I was going to make this show, it'd have to be on my own time, with whatever cameras and editing equipment I could scrounge up.

But I was very interested in getting to be a showrunner. I'd spent years reading the answers that STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE writer Ron Moore gave to fans who chatted with him on the AOL boards. A lot of what he talked about related to crafting story and how to make producible TV. It was sort of like showrunner school for someone who knew nothing about how writing for TV worked. Where I had huge gaps, they'd been partly filled in by a wealth of interviews from Joss Whedon, who often spoke at length about crafting genre TV with meaning and developing story and characters over long distances.

I decided to make producing the show easy on myself and set it on a college campus, revolving around the lives of students in a slightly heightened version of our school. That squarely put this in same genre of TV as much of what The WB was producing. More specifically - I was clearly showing the influence of DAWSON'S CREEK, which had just started its 4th season and had had a drastic upswing in quality about a third of the way through the previous season. There's no doubt that the character dynamics and conflicts had imprinted on me and were finding their way into the script I was working on.

The man who took over DAWSON'S CREEK and who was responsible for that creative resurgence? Greg Berlanti.

You probably begin to see how having Greg involved with the live read of a script of mine that's a valentine to the entire teen drama genre really felt like an instance of things coming full circle. There might be a couple of full circles there, to be honest. My good friend Matt Bolish - who I got to know at Denison when creating the show - called CRISIS "The script you've been meant to write for as long as I've known you."

To add to the layers of surrealism, I've been working for Greg for the better part of this year as the writers' assistant on the forth-coming SUPERMAN & LOIS.

This all has made me very reflective over the last several weeks, and so I hope you'll indulge me as I share some memories.

Casting the show was a humbling experience. We'd announced an open call across two days. On Day 1 only four people showed up. Fortunately, one of the students heading up DTV had some ties to the theater department and he made sure that Day 2 had many more actors. Even then, there was a lesson to be learned - you can't cast people who don't show up. Though some actors walked in and were more or less perfect for a part, there were a number of critical roles where no one fit the characters in my brain. Tailoring those characters to their performers would be a season-long effort. 

For instance, I'd written our villain as a pompous, verbose young Lex Luthor type. The guy we cast didn't have any obvious menace, but we found a way to make that work. The bigger issue was that he just wasn't used to memorizing paragraphs of dialogue, as we discovered in shooting the first episode. So immediately he was rewritten to be "more terse" (the actor's words) in later eps.

On the other hand, I learned that one effective technique was to scare the hell out of the actors about needing to know their lines for one big scene. The first episode had two such scenes. One was an EXTREMELY rare scene where we had eight of the ten regulars assembled at the dining hall for a scene that established everyone's dynamic with each other. Because of the difficulty in finding an open window in everyone's schedules, that didn't get shot until the end of the second week of production. That meant I had two weeks to warn everyone that they had to be ON because everyone was there and we'd have a lot of coverage to get. As a benefit, by then, most of the cast had settled into their roles.

We had three cameras rolling for this and my memory is that everyone nailed every line on the first take. It was like watching a play, even though everyone knew this scene would have a lot of cuts, and thus opportunities to pick up missed or blown lines. With three cameras going, my memory is that we only had to do it three or four times in full.

Threatening your cast works.

Right after that, we shot one of the most self indulgent scenes I ever wrote, where five of the characters are playing risk, and my avatar Owen Beckett sizes up everyone's strategies, using them as a way of psychologically deconstructing his opponents. It was over two pages where the actor, the aforementioned Matt Bolish, was doing most of the talking. Again, threatening physical harm got the job done because Matt nailed it perfectly. (There's a blooper reel where, during shooting of another scene where Matt keeps dropping his lines, he points at me and says, "you know who I blame for this? I blame you, because I've been up all week going "...and that's why he doesn't make alliances," quoting the cursed scene.)

This week I'm gonna take a few looks back at this project. It was the thing that really made me feel like I should pursue TV writing, and I definitely learned some lessons on it that made me not only a better writer, but probably better prepared to be a showrunner (someday.)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS will be a Zoom live read for charity AND feature an EVERWOOD reunion!

You read the script. You told me I should do it as a live read. Well, guess what? I listened, and thanks to Ben Blacker and Greg Berlanti, you are at last getting the teen mega-crossover you deserve!

Coming Friday, October 30... a Zoom live read of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS! An all-star cast will bring to life this unprecedented crossover event featuring characters from nearly a dozen teen dramas and a few surprises!

A Crisis is erasing the world of the Teen Drama multiverse and the only thing that can save it is an all-star cast of teen archetypes assembled by Kevin Arnold and Dawson Leery! The worlds of VERONICA MARS, EVERWOOD, RIVERDALE, ONE TREE HILL, GILMORE GIRLS and 13 REASONS WHY are just a few that collide in this meeting of the angstiest, sexiest and fastest talking teens in TV history.

And in a special treat, this dream team includes Ephram Brown and Amy Abbott from EVERWOOD - played by their original performers: Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp! Yes, it's an EVERWOOD reunion, and that's not the end of the surprises here!

From producers Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek; Everwood; The Flash; Riverdale, and many more) and Ben Blacker (Thrilling Adventure Hour; Dead Pilots Society) and writer Adam Mallinger comes a tribute to the classic WB teen dramas of yesterday and an affectionate parody of the CW superhero shows of today.

Who's Adam Mallinger, you ask? That's me! That's right, this project is so huge, I HAD to have my real name on it, so after over 11 years - the mask has totally fallen.

Most of you are going to keep calling me "Bitter," and I'm totally fine with that, btw.

Starring

Gregory Smith (ROOKIE BLUE) as Ephram Brown

Emily VanCamp (THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER) as Amy Abbott

Melissa Fumero (BROOKLYN NINE-NINE) as Lorelei Gilmore

Isabella Gomez (ONE DAY AT A TIME) as Rory Gilmore and Brooke Davis

Emmy Raver-Lampman (UMBRELLA ACADEMY) as Veronica Mars

Vella Lovell (CRAZY EX- GIRLFRIEND) as Veronica Lodge

Nick Wechsler (REVENGE) as Archie Andrews

Matt Lauria (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) as Dawson Leery

Anjelica Fellini (TEENAGE BOUNTY HUNTERS) as Hannah Baker

Mark Gagliardi (BLOOD & TREASURE) as Kevin Arnold

Caroline Ward (HOST) as Peyton Sawyer

Jaime Moyer (A.P. BIO) as Sue Sylvester

Lindsey Blackwell (DAVID MAKES MAN) as Young Veronica Mars

Autumn Reeser (THE O.C.) as Taylor Townsend

And Greg Berlanti as The Flash

Tickets available here. The cost is $8 plus a $2 fee, but you're allowed to donate more, and I hope you do, because the proceeds are going to two great causes:

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 protects heirs’ property and promotes its sustainable use to provide increased economic benefit to historically under-served families.

The show goes live on Friday, October 30th at 8pm ET / 5pm PT and will be available until midnight on Sunday, November 8th.

I'll have more to say about this in subsequent posts, but getting to be a part of this live read, seeing this script come to life, has been one of the great thrills of my career. Getting to do it with people whose work I've not only enjoyed, but admired and emulated is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'm going to cherish for a very long time.

If I start gushing about this amazing cast, I'll end up leaving someone out, but just LOOK at that list of people and tell me that's not a show you'd kick in a few bucks to watch.

If you want to read the first draft of the script (which is not EXACTLY the draft we're performing) and get a little history behind the script, go to this post.



Friday, June 5, 2020

The full script for CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS is now available!

You guys were here at the start of this less than two weeks ago when I dashed off four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS as a joke. It was basically taking the format of the big comic book mega-crossovers (and the Arrowverse crossover that the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS inspired) and applying it to some of the biggest teen dramas of the last 30 years.

The reaction was so good that I wrote another four pages. And then another. And another.

By then it was becoming clear to me that I'd have to finish this script I had no plan for when I started. It makes sense that I'd be drawn to something like this - teen dramas are among my favorite shows. Three years ago, when I listed the 16 Great TV Shows that made an impact on me as a writer, THE WONDER YEARS, GILMORE GIRLS, EVERWOOD and 13 REASONS WHY all made the list. Two years ago, I wrote an alternate season 3 premiere for 13 REASONS WHY, using it as an example of how to write a spec episode.

This script went from idle joke to completed spec in about eight days. I've held it for a few days because with all the protests happening across the country, it didn't feel appropriate at all to say, "Hey guys! Check this out!" It's now clear that several days into this, there IS going to be no golden time to be silly. The next five months until the election (and probably several months after) are going to be marked by continuing tragedy and aggression from Donald Trump and his party as they terrorize a nation to distract from their terrible pandemic response - and maybe make an undemocratic power grab as a bonus.

The world sucks, and things are bleak right now. Take joy where you can find it. If this script is in line with your interests, I hope it can make you smile for 75 pages. It's a loving tribute to many of the shows and creators whose work has inspired me and healed me throughout my life.

You can download the full script 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.

Some credit where credit is due:

BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 created by Darren Starr

DAWSON'S CREEK created by Kevin Williamson

EVERWOOD created by Greg Berlanti

GLEE created by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk & Ian Brennan

KATY KEENE developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacsa & Michael Grassi, based on characters by Archie Comics

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS developed by I. Marlene King, based on the novels by Sara Shepard

GILMORE GIRLS created by Amy Sherman-Palladino

ONE TREE HILL created by Mark Schwahn

RIVERDALE developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacsa, based on characters by Archie Comics

THE OC created by Josh Schwartz

VERONICA MARS created by Rob Thomas

13 REASONS WHY developed by Brian Yorkey, based on the novel by Jay Asher

THE WONDER YEARS created by Neal Marlens & Carol Black

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The 4th post of pages from CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS

For Part 1, go here.
For Part 2, go here.
For Part 3, go here.

With today's pages, we've reached that point in the story where it becomes necessary to have plot and exposition that will justify why everything is happening. I felt a little guilty about that, so instead of four pages, it turned out six pages as a bonus for the holiday weekend.

Enjoy and start your speculations on who Dark Monitor is.






Full script now available here.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS continues with an EVERWOOD/RIVERDALE crossover

For Part 1, go here.
For Part 2, go here.

Another day, another four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS. Today, Archie and Veronica take a trip to Everwood, Colorado.




I'm firming up my plans for the rest of this. I'm 90% sure of how this ends, so I might do one more post of pages sometime this weekend, but then go silent until I have the complete script. I feel like writing the ending is going to tell me things I should revise on the way there.

So enjoy these serialized bursts while they last and at some point in the near future, you WILL get to read a complete script.

Part 4 is here.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Part 2 of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS

I wasn't sure I could get a whole script out of this... but after kicking around some things in my head yesterday, I was able to crank out the next four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS late last night.

For Part 1, go here.





And I have been overwhelmed by the reaction to this very silly project. Allow me the indulgence of sharing some with you.

First, from showrunner Marc Gugginheim, who among many other shows, oversaw the actual TV crossover CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS:



SUPERGIRL writer J. Hothham had this incredibly kind comparison to make.


Liam here suggested something I didn't think I could do because it would conflict with another fantasy idea... but after some thought I'd say it's at least on the table.


I like how Jeremias thinks, but instead of a comic book, what about a live read?


And so, after a long morning of thinking about things I've decided that if you guys are willing to put up with a few scenes of traditional crossover exposition and some metaphysical techonobabble, I might be able to land this puppy in the next few weeks for you.

I probably won't be able to do everything you wanted to see in this, but we'll have some fun. Too early to know the posting schedule, but I imagine I might use the long holiday weekend to plow ahead and assess where I am after that. Stay tuned!

For Part 3, go here.
For Part 4, go here.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Presenting the first four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS

Yesterday, while goofing around on Twitter and talking about my latest binge of ALL-AMERICAN, I accidently gave myself a new project.



This is not too dissimilar to how a joke tweet a few years ago resulted in me writing a script for alternate timeline episode of 13 REASONS WHY that mashed that show's premise up with AWAKE. So really, no one should have been surprised when late last night I dropped this tweet on my audience.


Here are the four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS.





I'm not sure if I'll continue. I have a few notions and some scenes in mind but the overall premise and story is still evolving. Maybe I'll turn out some pages, maybe this is where it ends, but I'm really getting a kick out of some of the reactions I've gotten so far.

















Is there more coming? We'll see...

UPDATE: Yes, there's more. Find Part 2 here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.
Full script is here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Thought's on Quibi's muted launch, from A Friend with a Quibi show

When my twitter feed hasn't been full of people tweeting about Trump and the pandemic, I've seen a lot of tweets about Quibi and it's less-than-spectacular launch. It was the first of three major new streaming platforms set to launch in the year (HBOMAX arrives next month, and Peacock later this summer), so it would seem to be the canary in the coal mine as far as how much content can be put into the market before the audience stops consuming it.

The numbers haven't been great, the platform never seemed to have a breakout hit and all the conversation about Quibi seems to be ABOUT Quibi rather than about the shows. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg did an interview in the New York Times where he blamed COVID-19 for the muted response. He said: "I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus. Everything. But we own it... If we knew on March 1, which is when we had to make the call, what we know today, you would say that is not a good idea... it’s regrettable, but we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret it."

I'm not sure I share this perspective. For two months, most of the country has been stuck at home starved for new content. Netflix added over 15 million subscribers in the first quarter of the year - more than double what they had projected. Correlation doesn't always equal causation, but that's an interesting data point.

This late March article from the Verge claims, "While the television industry as a whole saw a 20 percent increase last week compared to the month prior, HBO Now saw the highest usage on its platform since summer. The percentage of people binge viewing series has increased 65 percent, while movie watching is up 70 percent on HBO Now."

The captive audience is there. I don't think coronavirus was a huge factor. I think the biggest issue is Quibi made it too much work to access their content. You can only watch on an iPhone or an Android. You can't watch on Apple TV and you can't Chromecast it to your TV. Plenty of people stream to their phone, so this didn't need to be a fatal error, but I think when you're building an audience the more barriers to entry there are, the fewer people will go to the trouble of going through them.

I reached out to a Friend with a Quibi Show and here's what they had to say when I suggested that having a captive audience at home should have been a boost rather than a detriment, here's what they had to say:

"The service was always designed to be on the go. It’s the only possible way it made sense. I’ve got 10 minutes to kill. So... all of at home with HOURS to kill, we’re choosing longer things. I watched all of the baseball doc, which was 18 hours long. Same with Last Dance.

"BUT... had they actually done what they said they were going to do... they could’ve weathered it. They kept talking about being SHORT FORM HBO AT THE START and instead they did YOUTUBE, BUT YOU PAY." 

This friend had their own thoughts on what went wrong:

"#1: Their ads ignored the content and focused on the concept. "Shows are REALLY short," they told us, which is akin to the doctor telling you "don't worry about the shot...it'll be over fast." No one wants a shot. And no one is inspired by how quickly something will be over. TV is concept. Cool concepts sell. And they may have a TON of cool concepts, but they didn't seem want to tell their potential audience about it. Just IT'S FAST!

"#2: After sitting in rooms with artists and saying they were going to do high-end, short-form TV... they led with glorified YouTube entertainment...which we were going to have to eventually pay for. And it wasn't even clever YouTube entertainment. It was a judge show and a prank show...which have been around since the 80s.

"#3: All they cared about was star fucking. What's the show about? What's the draw? Who cares, it's from X with Y and Z. Moreover, while saying they were doing high end TV, they did movies. They handed control to whomever was the most namey person on the call sheet regardless of smarts or vision.

"#4: And yes... the pandemic. You can't launch 'TV you can watch on the go' when there's nowhere to go.

"BUT... #1-#3 were the REAL issues. And #4 was the nail in the coffin." 

Definitely solid points there. Even if Quibi doesn't think any of these were magic bullet issues to be concerned about, I hope their internal post-mortems look deeper than just assuming COVID-19 was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that derailed an airtight plan.

And the reality is that even if that WAS the case, COVID-19 is a reality for every other service looking to launch in the next year, so someone is going to have to figure out how to achieve success under those circumstances. It's natural selection, the future of streaming will have to adapt or die.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

My Top 10 Films of 2019

I admit... my intent to be more active on this blog last year took an even faster nosedive than I expected. I'm sorry to say of late that I've not felt terribly inspired with new ideas, but at least the end of one year gives me a very easy top to post about - my Top Ten Films of 2019!

1. Apollo 11 - It's remarkable to see footage of one of the most significant events of the last century looking not like faded newsreel, but vibrant color, as if it was shot in the present. Compiled from recently-recovered archival documentary footage, this film lets the events on screen tell the story. There's no omniscient narrator or talking head interviews to cast this like a tale you're hearing around the campfire. Knowing there were tens of thousands of hours of raw footage that had to be culled to make these 93 minutes makes the achievement even more remarkable. By showing the voyage of Apollo 11 as something unfolding before the cameras, the events become all the more immediate. Man landing on the moon has never felt more real or more awe inspiring. This is a film that should be shown in every elementary school.

2. Uncut Gems - Adam Sandler totally disappears in the role of diamond district jeweler/hustler Howard Ratner. You don't feel any trace of the actor's usual comedic persona even in the film's funny parts. This is a film that keeps piling the sandbags up against Ratner one after the other, with even brief victories quickly washed away. Every time you want Howard to just take his money off the table and stem his losses, he doubles down. It's like watching that guy walk the wire between the World Trade Center towers... he's got to fall sometime, right? Also, people who don't follow basketball at all (me) will probably be shocked at how the actual basketball player in the cast is such a natural actor. (Seriously, Kevin Garnett has more presence than almost any other athelte/actor I can think of.) I feel like this might be a little too intense for the Oscars to award Best Picture, but ten years from now when we look back at 2019 - this will be one of the first films that springs to mind.

3. Parasite - This one was released with a lot of "Go in knowing NOTHING" hype and I worry that might have scared off viewers afraid of a HEREDITARY kind of viewing experience. It's actually a dark comedy that turns into a thriller mid-way through with a surprising twist. It's gotten a lot of hype over its themes of class warfare, but more than that, I just appreciate it's a really well-made thriller about an underdog family who targets and cons a wealthy family who REALLY needs to do a better job of vetting their hired help.

4. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Tom Hanks never quite makes you fully forget you're watching "Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers" but he completely embodies the goodness that was Fred Rogers and makes you believe a man could be as generous and compassionate off-screen as he was on it. It was a year where we really needed films about GOOD people and the difference that kindness can make in a person's life. Matthew Rhys has been underpraised for his role as basically the cynical audience stand-in, a man used to seeing the dark side of life and unsure how to profile a man who seems to have no dark side or skeletons in his closet. There's a subplot about Rhys's character's father that could have been cynical in its heart-tugging but Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster's script makes you believe that a man like Rhys can find his heart, just as easily as it makes you believe in Mr. Rogers.

5. Avengers: Endgame - The one big franchise this year that completely stuck the landing. Yes, the time travel logic is counter-intuitive and there are plenty of nits to pick there, but everything here works on an emotional level. The final fates of several Avengers feels earned, much like a circle closing. I wrote in my review that it feels more like a series finale than a feature film, and while there's a lot of truth to that, it's a series that a LOT of people have been watching for a decade. Balancing spectacle and heart so ably, if this becomes the rabbit that every other blockbuster film tries to chase, we're in for some entertaining movies.

6. Booksmart - It's a disservice to write this off as a "female SUPERBAD." I see the similarities, but it also has a lot more to say about finding and redefining one's identity than the earlier film grapples with. SUPERBAD is about the end of the high school days and the one last chance to go after what you want. The second-best parts of BOOKSMART are about Amy breaking free of the box she's been in throughout high school. (The best parts of the film are Billie Lourd, obviously.) I also like that is specifically avoids making this a literal "coming out" story for her. She's out, but this is really a story about breaking free of the person you used to be.

7. Knives Out - I've watched this movie twice, and it might be my pick for favorite dialogue of the year and favorite ensemble. This is one of those movies where the joy that everyone felt making it on set clearly permeates on-screen. It's a whodunit that seems to tell us the "who" halfway through and briefly morphs into a suspense film as we worry the responsible party will be exposed. Everyone brings their A-game here. I want Rian Johnson to make a new Benoit Blanc film every other year, alternating with a new original film with this cast. I can't pick a favorite member of the cast, but this is a real coming out party for Ana de Armas. Not only was she usually cast as the sex bomb before this, but she was a sex bomb IN A MOVIE I SAW and I completely didn't recognize her until I went to look her up. Johnson's script should be required reading for anyone working on a script with a large ensemble, to study the economy of information that fleshes out everyone.

8. Dolemite is my Name - I'm a sucker for films about never-gonna-bes who don't let any talent deficiencies get in the way of their creative dreams (See: ED WOOD, also from the screenwriting team of Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski.) I knew nothing of the story of Rudy Ray Moore before I watched the film. At first, you pity the guy for his fruitless pursuit of fame and fortune, then you find yourself admiring his hustle and savvy in finding the right audience for his comedy. And when he seems ready to blow ALL that money on making a film before he's even learned how to direct, you want to scream "No, Icarus! Don't fly too high!" The whole time you're bracing for the brutal payoff this hustling underdog is courting... but the movie has much more up its sleeve. This is the kind of movie that will inspire a lot of passionate (and hopefully) talented people to bet on themselves in pursuit of their dreams. It's also EASILY Eddie Murphy's best performance since... his dual roles in BOWFINGER, maybe?

9. Little Women - The back-and-forth timelines were confusing. There, I said it. Particularly in the first half, I feel like the movie could have handled those transitions more effectively, but that's one of the few bad things I have to say about this film. Having never read the book or seen any other adaptations, I came to this with virgin eyes and felt that writer/director Greta Gerwig did a remarkable job balancing the stories of these four sisters in this perfectly-cast period drama.

10. Hustlers - She's being pushed for Supporting Actress, but this film BELONGS to Jennifer Lopez's Ramona. Constance Wu's Destiny is our eyes and ears, what what passes for the film's moral center, but without J.Lo's seduction into their increasingly ugly grift, this whole movie would collapse. She's the ringleader, the one who keeps pushing them further and further, taking on bigger risks. Soon what began as a clever scheme making victims of Wall Street douchebros who deserved it treads into uglier, more dangerous territory. Ramona and Destiny's friendship is a well-drawn depiction of the emotional manipulations that come into play as a friendship takes a slow slide into toxicity. You're torn between wanting to be loyal to a friend like Ramona even as it's inevitable she'll take you down with her.

and the rest of my Top 20:

11. Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood
12. The Art of Self-Defense
13. Queen & Slim
14. Toy Story 4
15. Jojo Rabbit
16. Bombshell
17. The Irishman
18. Frozen 2
19. Ford v. Ferrari
20. Ready or Not

Of the big Oscar films and would-be Oscar films, I still have to see 1917.