Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why does the Fast & Furious series get respect and Michael Bay doesn't?

 Brendan asked me on Twitter:

As the foremost Bayesian of our time, your thoughts on this Ben Kuchera piece?

For the uninitiated, Ben's reference to my expertise is a nod to my book MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films, which is currently available on Amazon. Go here to read the announcement if your memory needs refreshing. A brief primer on my view on Michael Bay can also be obtained by reading my review of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, a film I called "the most brilliant and subversively political film you'll see all year."

Mr. Kuchera puts forth a very interesting opinion piece and while I will be quoting some relevant bits here just to give my stance some context, I encourage you to read it in full. A key statement comes at the start:

"Many of the same people who heap scorn on Michael Bay are unapologetic Furious 7 fans. The entire Fast series has earned the sort of open fandom that is only matched by superstar franchises like The Avengers. Why do people seem to hate the Transformers series but the equally dumb car racing films get a "free" pass?"

I want to highlight how this is less Kuchera's own statement than it is a summation of "conventional wisdom." However, it's critical as far as establishing the goal posts for any discussion that follows as the question takes as a given that Transformers films are "dumb" and the Fast series is "equally dumb." If you've read my book (available for only $4.99 on Kindle) you might understand the fallacy of the blanket statement, at least in its simplicity.

As I discussed in my Age of Extinction review, this final Transformers sequel is a subversive deconstruction of the entire event blockbuster genre. Indeed, my discussion of the second and third films in the series draws greatly on the idea that Bay himself is frustrated by that sort of product, and has essentially become a prisoner of that genre. After the frustrating failure of some of his original ideas, it often feels like Bay returns to this series in repeated efforts to blow it up once and for all. There is an intelligence at work in those films, but it's put in service of the message that the characters presented as heroes are actually the true villains. It's the cinematic equivalent of Bay catching our underage selves sneaking a smoke and punishing us by demanding we polish off the entire carton.

The Fast films have no such pretensions, and until Tokyo Drift's writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin returned for a second go-round in the film's fourth entry, there was very little narrative or creative continuity. They began as a series of mostly disconnected one-offs until the fifth film tied threads from all the disparate movies together into one glorious Ocean's Eleven-like gift. The Fast films embrace their history, warts and all, when it probably would have been just as easy to ignore the second and third films, sticking to the movies that feature only most of the original cast.

With that comes the sense that everyone involved WANTS to be there. Everyone in front of and behind the scenes is having a ball making it. The stunts are insanely ridiculous at times, often in complete defiance of even the loosest concept of physics. But they look cool, and even in the midst of a chase, the characters usually let us see the adrenaline rush on their faces. It's a roller coaster ride you can't stop laughing at. It owns its implausibility, as if to say "We know this would never happen, but do you care?"

That's a sharp contrast to the Transformers series, where the actors play the peril as terrifying, not something getting their blood racing in all the right ways. Though Bay's metatexual criticism tends not to be perceived by most viewers, on some level they must recognize the films' direct disappointment in its audience. Both films are chocolate brownies, but the Fast brownie is the one saying, "Have another bite. Don't I taste great?" The Transformers brownie pipes up as you draw it closer to your lips and says, "Excuse me, do you have any idea what I'm doing to your hips?"

To paint either series as "dumb" is to miss the point. Both of them often struggle with plotting. Furious 7 has a lot of weakly-motivated plot developments, but it also had to deal with their production being completely upended by Paul Walker's death mid-shoot, so most audiences are inclined to treat those lightly. But once you take plot off of the table, it becomes more noticeable that Fast films earn a lot of good will from their characters. Most of the main players in the series are criminals to one extent or another, but they also have their own sense of honor and loyalty. They do bad things, but they're not bad people. This is why the finale of the latest film is so affecting - it's purely about these friends saying goodbye to Paul Walker's character in their own way. Yes, a lot of the audience's emotional reaction is a result of transference of Walker's death onto the exit of his character. Even if our mourning for Walker isn't profound, we can perceive the actors working through their grief on-screen and their sorrow surely strikes a chord in the hearts of anyone who has lost someone.

It's an emotional depth never really attempted by Transformers, and one that probably could not be matched even if one of the leads perished mid-installment. The robots are ostensibly good people, but they bring nothing but pain and destruction to Earth. It's the inverse of how we perceive Fast's Dom Torretto and his crew. Instead, Bay takes figures whom popular culture tells us should be heroes and inflates them so the scale makes their failings impossible to miss. Do you really want to root for Optimus Prime, or do you want to shout at him and Megatron to take their bar brawl somewhere else?

The humans in Transformers find their lives only made worse by contact with the Autobots. Unless you count Sam landing two ultra-sexy girlfriends in a row, there's really nothing aspirational in any of the movies. There's no moment to make the audience go, "Damn, I wish that was me!"

Certainly Kuchera's article is onto something when it highlights the multicultural nature of the Fast films. That cannot be ignored as a factor in the Fast series success. However... that works because the movie already is pitched at a tone that makes it easy to love. Swap Shia LaBeouf out for Michael B. Jordan and trade Rachael Taylor for Naya Rivera and you would still have a movie that keeps harrumphs at the audience for showing up for it.

So yes, the article grazes a bullseye when it says, "Michael Bay movies tend to be cynical; they feel like the creative team and interchangeable stars are taking the audience for granted at best, and at worst exploiting our worst impulses. The Fast and Furious franchise, on the other hand, are made by creative teams that are clearly invested in the franchise and care about showing the audience a good time. They're not cynical, they're hopeful, which is a great thing in a huge-budget action film."

Where we go wrong is in assuming Bay doesn't know what he's doing. He knows EXACTLY what he's doing - it's the audience who often misses his point.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

THE FLASH was my favorite new show this year

With most of the TV season behind us, we can now fairly make a call as to which new shows were the best, which were the worst, which returning series were the most improved, and so on. Today I want to tackle the first catagory there. It probably will come as little surprise to regular readers of this blog that THE FLASH was probably my favorite new show of the season. My geekhood is well-documented. What might strike you as more notable praise is that my very non-geek wife also loves the show.

I had a feeling that the CW had a hit on their hands when my wife walked into the room two minutes into the pilot and before long, instead of checking her email and doing work on her laptop, she was as riveted to the screen as I was. Comic book shows always have to potential to play too much "inside baseball." Go too far in that direction and you run the risk of a non-geek audience feeling alienated. At the worst, you'll end up with scenes that make the uninitiated actively aware there's a gag they're missing.

The quintessential worst-case scenario is GOTHAM's brand of winking at the audience. The pilot features a scene with Edward Nygma, whom fans will realize is the future Riddler. He appears here as a forensic expert who delivers his finding in the form of riddles. You could almost feel the writers elbowing you in the side during this scene saying, "Get it? Get it! It's cuz he's gonna be the Riddler!" Even people only vaguely familiar with Batman probably got that one, but the gag only calls attention to its own unnatural construction. It's clumsy even before one of the cops delivers the line, "If I want riddles, I'll read the funny pages."

THE FLASH's counterpart to this gag came in Week 2. We learned in the pilot that Dr. Caitlin Snow's fiance had been killed in the explosion of the STAR Labs particle accelerator (the MacGuffin that provided Barry Allen with his powers and charged up a legion of characters who can serve as the adversaries of future episodes.) In the subsequent episode, Caitlin mentions her fiance's name in passing: Ronnie.

I grabbed the remote and paused the show, "Wait, did I hear that right? What did she just say?" My wife confirmed that Caitlin said "Ronnie." My reaction: "Oh shit! They're going there!" The significance completely lost on my wife was that Caitlin is fated to become the villain Killer Frost... who usually bedevils the hero Firestorm... who is a merging of two people, one of whom is Ronnie Raymond. Bear in mind, if I wasn't there, my wife wouldn't have even noticed this shoutout because Caitlin's line was completely organic to the scene. It was a beautiful way of throwing an Easter egg those steeped in geek lore without puzzling new viewers.

This is something THE FLASH does regularly and I give them a lot of credit for not turning the show into a "No Geeks Allowed" reference zone where things only have meaning if you know the lore. Everything the series uses from the comics, it takes care to re-contextualize for the audience. Series creators Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg know what they're doing.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise. All of these men are veterans. Berlanti is one of the best writers on TV (I'll say it again, seek out EVERWOOD on DVD if you never saw it) and co-created companion show ARROW with Kreisberg (along with Marc Guggenheim). Also, in addition to being DC Comics's Chief Creative Officer, Johns is one of comic's biggest writers of the last fifteen years or so. The vast majority of my favorite DC stories since 2000 or so have been written by Johns. His relaunch of GREEN LANTERN might count as one of my favorite comic runs ever and provides ample evidence the man knows how to build an epic. It also needs to be noted that Johns had a very strong run on THE FLASH, so he understands this corner of the universe intimately.

It also doesn't hurt that the series boasts probably the best cast of any CW series, and possibly any comic book show. I only knew Grant Gustin from his stint on GLEE as a character I actively disliked seeing on screen. Now I'm wondering if I should go back and revisit those because Gustin has owned the role of Barry Allen from moment one. He's fun and charming, but if you had to describe him in one word, it would probably be "likable." It's nice to see a superhero lead who doesn't have to spend a wealth of scenes brooding and being moody. There's a lot of weight on Barry's shoulders, but the show regularly shows us what a rush these powers would be. Barry's having fun with his ability and when he has fun, WE have fun. It's a nice change of pace to see a hero enjoy the things he can do.

And did you ever think you'd see Jesse L. Martin on the CW? He brings such intelligence and emotion to the character of Joe West, Barry's foster father and mentor. There's an interesting showdown among Barry's father-figures: West, Barry's own incarcerated father Henry, and Dr. Harrison Wells. Henry is played by John Wesley Shipp, the first actor to play Flash on TV back during the 1990 series. It's stunt casting that feels less like a stunt because Shipp and Gustin have great father/son chemistry. Wells's portrayer is another coup for the CW - Tom Cavanagh.

Recent eps have revealed that Wells is actually the evil Reverse Flash in disguise, the same man who killed Barry's mother 15 years ago. Barry's father went to jail for that crime and Barry himself has recently realized that his father is innocent and that through a quirk of time travel, he is going to end up back in that past while battling Reverse Flash. The question is, can he change history to save his mom? Should he?

The last ep showed us Reverse Flash killed the real Dr. Wells that same night and assumed his identity. Everything he's done since then seems to have been to make sure Barry gained his powers, which Reverse Flash needs so he can siphon that energy and use it to return to his home in the 25th Century. I'm laying all of this out because I want to make a prediction: When Barry eventually finds himself in the battle with the Reverse Flash that sends him to the night of his mother's death, I think he won't save her. But I'd bet he WILL save the real Wells and bring him back to the present. Thus, history can stay intact and the show has a way of keeping Cavanagh in the mentor role once the Reverse Flash story ends.

(Wells has told Barry he can't change the timeline, but that's been shown to be a self-serving lie. Last week revealed that in the original history, the particle accelerator didn't become active until 2020. Reverse Flash/Wells brought that about in 2013, seven years early. Everything Wells has said one should or shouldn't do with regard to time travel should be considered suspect.)

I like the occasional hints that Wells isn't totally evil, as when he compromises his own evil scheme in order to save Ronnie Raymond. Cavanagh plays "good" Wells with such integrity that we actively want to find reasons for him not to be a bad guy. I'm really looking forward to seeing the show peel back more layers on this guy in the final stretch of episodes.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Danielle Panabaker has shown a variety of sides to Caitlin's character. We meet her as a colder, almost all-business type, eventually explained as her mourning the loss of her fiance. In flashbacks we see a less burdened Caitlin and recent shows have given Panabaker to bust out great comic timing as Caitlin's Type A personality attempts to be carefree. Few things have made me laugh harder on this show than her line reading of " I would like to start a tab," pronouncing each word as if it's the first time she's said it, and with verbal quotes around the word "tab." (Okay, I probably laughed even harder a few minutes later when a completely sloshed Caitlin attempted karaoke, and later still when an even drunker Caitlin accused Barry of sneaking a peek at her in a state of undress.) I'm enjoying this version of Caitlin so much that I'm wary of losing her when she embarks on her comic-mandated destiny. She's got great chemistry with Barry that it would be a shame to waste.

Carlos Valdes's Cisco took a little time to grow on me, but he's a fun geek-surrogate for the audience. It struck me recently that he might be the "Willow" of the group in that you can get easy audience investment in the peril by threatening him. (Yes, BUFFY fans, he's also got "Xander" qualities too.) Candice Patton does well with what she's been given as Iris, but I'm looking forward to her being let in on the secret. Her storylines can only go so far while she has to play the role of the person kept in the dark.

When a cast works this well, you can't overlook the contribution of the casting director, and David Rappaport is clearly the CW's star for these shows. He's also worked his magic on ARROW and just cast the SUPERGIRL pilot. SUPERGIRL also has what looks like a strong call sheet for a superhero show, and with many of the same creatives involved, I am anticipating that show like none other next fall.

This is probably a good time to heap some praise on Berlanti's producing partner Sarah Schechter, who collaborates with him on all three shows. I've seen a producing team like that be worked like crazy on just ONE show, so for this duo to take on three series simultaneously shows that they're an exceptionally well-oiled machine. In the old days of the site Television Without Pity, EVERWOOD fans used to lovingly say "Damn you, Berlanti" every time an emotional moment hit them in the gut. I kind of want to say "Damn you, Berlanti, for making TV writing and production look so easy!" (The man became one of the youngest showrunners in history at age 27 after doing a major rewrite over a weekend on a Dawson's Creek episode.)

THE FLASH really is the first true, unadulterated superhero show we've had since the original FLASH series. LOIS & CLARK was much more focused on the relationship than the superheroics. As a prequel SMALLVILLE seemed determined to keep Clark out of costume as long as possible. GOTHAM follows suit in that vein, telling less of a Batman story and more of a tale about everything that preceeded Batman. AGENTS OF SHIELD sticks to a lot of non-powered characters, a trait shared by AGENT CARTER, another wonderful show I've raved about. Even ARROW doesn't quite fit the bill as a superhero show because its lead is non-powered.

In the 50s, DC Comics relaunched their Flash character with a new costume and new identity. This is a moment historically remembered as the birth of the Silver Age of comics. (Some say that Silver Age ended with Barry's death in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, appropriately enough.) THE FLASH series seems poised to be a similar vanguard for the current era of superhero TV shows. With each ep getting better than the previous, I have faith we're in for a helluva ride.

If you haven't checked out this show, what are you waiting for?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Short film DRINK is an impressive calling card for director Emily Moss Wilson

Almost a year ago, I attended the local film festival Dances with Films to see a short film that my friend Austin Highsmith acted in called DRINK. I had met the director, Emily Moss Wilson, once at a party but otherwise didn't really know much about her or her film. When I found out the short was 23 minutes, I got a twinge of the same gut reaction I'm sure some of you might be feeling.

"23 minutes?! In the short film world that might as well be Gone With The Wind! Who makes a short that's the same length as your average sitcom sans commercials? If you're gonna take that much of my time, you'd better deliver!"

As far as I'm concerned DRINK delivers. I was rivited to the screen the whole time. The production value is fantastic, the acting is great, the visuals are appropriately unsettling at times. I completely bought into the world that Wilson and her team created. This might be one of the best shorts I've seen.

In talking to Emily post-screening, she cited The Twilight Zone and The X-Files as two of her big influences and said that one reason DRINK came in at the length it did was because they wanted it to play like a pilot for a Twilight Zone-like anthology series. For my money, it works.

Every now and then, we see some flashy VFX-driven short somehow get featured on Deadline or some other website and everyone seems to "ooh" and "ahhh" over the VFX that was done at a pittance, if not a total favor, and gives a total pass to the story. I'm tired of viral shorts that are little more than sizzle reels for stunt teams or VFX wizards. You want to impress me? Tell me a story.

If some film school punk can upload a 3-minute showcase of his knowledge of After Effects and suddenly have studios fighting begging him to come in for meetings, there is no reason that DRINK shouldn't be a fantastic calling card for Emily Moss Wilson. She sustains the tension and intrigue for a full 23 minutes - not an easy feat.  I want to see what she can do with a feature. This is a helluva lot stronger calling card than most short films I see.

Please check out DRINK, "A Twilight Zone-inspired cautionary tale about a young mother forced to come face-to-face with her deepest desire."

STARRING Austin Highsmith, Nolan Gross, Noah Swindle, Jake Muxworthy, Carter Jenkins, Virginia Tucker, Ron Harper
Directed by Emily Moss Wilson
Written by Emily Moss Wilson and Larry Soileau
Produced by Greg Wilson and Benjamin Grayson

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Black List Table Reads podcast is coming April 16th!

Big news (for real!) on this April Fools Day! The Black List continues to expand its brand with a weekly podcast called The Black List Table Reads, launching April 16th on Midroll Media.

Black List founder Franklin Leonard presents a new script every month, read by a rotating cast of talented actors, along with interviews with members of the Hollywood screenwriting community and beyond. The first featured script read for episodes 1-4 is Balls Out, written by Malcolm Spellman (producer of Empire) and Tim Talbott (winner of the 2014 Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award).



The full press release is below, but I've gotten a few additional details and clarifications from Franklin Leonard. These Table Reads will be separate entites from the Black List Live series that thus far has had four successful live shows in Los Angeles. "The podcast readings will be studio recorded. No live audience," Leonard said. "The live staged readings will continue as they always have and will remain scripts selected from the annual list."

While the podcast will draw from the annual list, the intent is also to showcase scripts that have been hosted on the website at blcklst.com. Franklin Leonard confirmed that to qualify there will be "No opt in necessary. The scripts that we do identify via the website will be those that receive high scores and work particularly well for the medium." He reiterated, "Though in all likelihood, many of the scripts we do for the podcast will come from writers who have hosted scripts on the site, that won't be the only place we find them. Case in point, our first script, BALLS OUT, was on the annual list."

The cast for the first script has yet to be announced, but you check the podcast out yourself on April 16th. Midroll Media's press release follows.

MIDROLL MEDIA LAUNCHES FOUR NEW PODCAST SHOWS

Spontaneanation, CARDBOARD!, The Black List Table Reads and Womp It Up! Expand Earwolf and Wolfpop Universe of Entertainment; Company Continues its Investment in Content; Entices Audiences with New Episodic Shows & Serialized Storytelling

LOS ANGELES, APRIL 1, 2015 -- Midroll Media, the leading digital media company providing a 360-degree suite of podcast production, distribution, and monetization services to artists, entertainers, and thought leaders, announces its spring rollout of four brand new shows, Spontaneantion with Paul F. Tompkins, CARDBOARD! with Rich Sommer, The Black List Table Reads, and Womp It Up! debuting throughout the month of April to be added to its slate of programming. The new shows underscore Midroll’s ongoing strategy of working with the best talent to develop original, entertaining, and innovative podcast programming, while expanding the breadth of its podcast audience.

Host, comedian, and actor Paul F. Tompkins, actor Rich Sommer, innovative film executive Franklin Leonard, and actresses and improvisational comedians Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham bring their unique and highly anticipated podcast shows to the company’s owned-and operated comedy and pop culture sites, Earwolf and Wolfpop. The unveiling of the new slate of podcasts continues to highlight the unprecedented momentum of both the medium of podcasting and Midroll Media.

“Midroll is committed to providing great original audio, and this spring we have some wonderful new shows lined up. Comedy fans who love Comedy Bang Bang, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, and Improv4humans will be excited to know they can now get new, weekly shows from favorite performers Paul F. Tompkins, Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham," said Chris Bannon, Chief Content Officer for Midroll. “And our new Wolfpop shows mirror two major pop culture passions: Rich Sommer’s CARDBOARD! celebrates the huge community of board game fans; Franklin Leonard’s Black List Table Reads captures the imagination with pure audio storytelling, with performances of some of Hollywood's most desirable scripts.”

Spring Rollout of Fresh, Original Shows for Earwolf & Wolfpop-- Spontaneanation Leads the Charge.

Throughout the month of April Midroll introduces shows hosted by Earwolf fan favorites like Tompkins, whose show leads the pack with his show debut on April 1st, then releasing on Mondays following launch. Both Tompkins’ and St. Clair’s shows join Earwolf’s comedy fold, curated by Scott Aukerman, while Sommer’s and Leonard’s shows join its sister site, Wolfpop, curated by Paul Scheer, as the first new shows on the network since its launch in November 2014. See below for show descriptions.

April 1st - Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins

Paul F. Tompkins has appeared on Earwolf more than any other guest, and for good reason. He’s been writing and performing comedy for twenty years, racking up a countless number of accolades. Longtime podcast comedy and improv all-star Paul F. Tompkins hosts Spontaneanation. It's a completely improvised show, from monologue to interview, to long-form sketch. Join Paul, his special guests (including Michael Sheen, Aimee Mann, Kaitlin Olson, and Dave Foley), and his incredibly talented friends from the world of improv--hailing from The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Superego, and other first-rate Los Angeles collectives--for an hour of comedy that none of them ever see coming. Fans can catch new episodes of Spontaneanation Mondays on Earwolf.com.

April 9th - CARDBOARD! with Rich Sommer

Actor and new podcast host Rich Sommer loves board games. But we're not talking about the stuff of your grandparents’ rec room--things have changed a lot since people started to gather around the bridge table. Whether you're a serious player or a newbie, give a warm welcome to your personal board game evangelist. Ty Burrell of ABC’s Modern Family joins Sommer for the fun as his first guest on episode one. Grab your game of choice, discover a new one, and get your cocktail pairings ready for CARDBOARD! with Rich Sommer, coming every other Thursday on Wolfpop.com.

April 16th - The Black List Table Reads

The Black List Table Reads takes the best and most exciting screenplays Hollywood hasn't yet made, and turns them into movies for your ears. Black List founder Franklin Leonard presents a new script every month, read by a rotating cast of talented actors, along with interviews with members of the Hollywood screenwriting community and beyond. The first featured script read for episodes 1-4 is Balls Out, written by Malcolm Spellman (producer of Empire) and Tim Talbott (winner of the 2014 Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award). Follow the coveted stories as they unfold on The Black List Table Reads Thursdays on Wolfpop.com.

April 20th - Womp It Up!

Womp It Up! is the latest spin-off of Comedy Bang! Bang!, featuring Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham in character. The show joins the ranks of other Comedy Bang! Bang! offspring The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project and With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus. This formidable duo also created and star in the critically acclaimed Playing House on the USA network, which was recently renewed for a second season. So slather cream cheese all over your Digiorno and get ready to get WOMPED because everybody’s favorite intern, Marissa Wompler (St. Clair) is throwing on the cans for her brand new school project podcast Womp It Up!. Her teacher/mentor/co-host/former sniper, Charlotte Listler (Parham), will be there to DJ and divvy out love advice, joined by other special guest stars. Get a front-row seat to the madness of the Marina Del Rey lifestyle! Catch all of the antics bi-weekly, Mondays on Earwolf.com.

Audiences and Advertisers ‘Hungry’ for New Content and Listening Experiences

As mainstream awareness continues to grow, the appetites of both audiences and advertisers grow, too. Last month Edison Research's The Infinite Dial 2015 reported that "monthly audio podcast consumption grew from approximately 39 million monthly users in 2014 to approximately 46 million in 2015."

The surge in popularity of the podcast medium has also caught the interest of advertisers who are attracted by the authenticity and intimacy of the native advertising experience created by host read and fan-appreciated ads. While the business of podcast ads continues to evolve, podcasts as entertainment are drawing larger numbers--and brands want to be where audiences are flocking.

Midroll, recognized for its expertise in monetization and its relationships with both brands and podcasters, represents more than 200 podcasts to advertisers, including shows on its owned-and-operated networks along with other popular off-network favorites. With the challenge of keeping inventory high as advertiser demand for shows skyrockets, the newest programs from Earwolf and Wolfpop all debut this month with launch partner advertisers: Audible, Cards Against Humanity, Harry's, Loot Crate, MeUndies, R&R Games, Squarespace, and Xero.

“Just as audiences are listening to our shows, we’re listening to and learning from them as well. Earwolf and Wolfpop provide key insights for us, allowing us to delve deeper into new episodic shows and serialized storytelling,” said Midroll Media CEO Adam Sachs. “We are supremely excited to welcome the newest members of our growing creative family, in order to delight audiences old and new with the newest shows.”

All Earwolf and Wolfpop podcasts are available for streaming on iTunes and Soundcloud.

April Fool's Reboot trailer script

Let's not try to be too cute this year. We all know it's April 1st. You're all too smart to fall for some prank where I claim to have some kind of insider script and build an elaborate web around it. Besides all that does is turn the comments into "Ha! I didn't fall for it!"

So bravo! None of you fell for this April Fools. That means you're free to enjoy the following short script on its own merits.

What's it a short script of? Well, dear reader, that would be telling. Half the fun is in the discovery. Given the way nostalgia reigns these days, I'm probably sacrificing some page hits by not plastering what the gag is, so I'll say that to an extent, this is my commentary on how certain reboots - like the upcoming TERMINATOR film - are being handled. (Actually, it might not be a bad idea to check out the TERMINATOR GENISYS trailer here.) More than a lot of my other posts, I'm very curious to see you guys react in the comments.

I've embedded scans of the script pages below. You can also download the Mystery Reboot Script in PDF form here. (it's less than six pages!)







Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We're SERIOUSLY still fighting about this "Screenwriting Rules" s***?!?!?!

Nicholas writes in with a request that I got a few times on Twitter and honestly had been trying to avoid.

I'd love to see a blog post with your take on the Scriptnotes podcast where John and Craig discuss screenwriting rules.

For those of you who don't know what he's talking about, it's this podcast here. (Transcript here.) John and Craig break down a "Meet the Reader" post, "12 Signs of a Promising spec script."
 
Honestly, I've taken on the rules so many times that I've gotten tired of writing the same post over and over again. It's a fight I'm tired of because it often means that some useful advice gets shat on because someone like Tarantino found a brilliant way to defy convention. Perhaps some of us giving the advice could take more care in how we present it. For instance, my 12-Step Screenwriting videos are NOT meant to be "the secret formula for writing a script" or "the only way you should write a script." It's merely a processes designed to keep you always moving forward in your writing. I would never have put it out there with the message of "this is how you have to write a script."

But I have never seen such ugly fights break out as I have with people being advised on script length, or "we see," or bolded sluglines. You tell a group of aspiring screenwriters that they should be vigilant about catching typos and at least one person in the group will pipe up with "Fuck you! Tarantino doesn't even spell his titles right! This is bullshit!" And then suddenly we're no longer having a conversation about what can help you make a good impression as a writer, we're throwing down about if this advice really matters if it cannot be rigidly applied in the absolute.

About a year ago, Scott Myers and I coordinated efforts on a series he did for his blog called So-Called Screenwriting Rules. You can also find a couple of my posts - like this one on "we see" and this one on unfilmables - that fit into the context of that discussion.

Scott and I specifically wrote this series as an answer to all the "Rules" and you'll find that as we discuss each commonly-accepted "rule," we're careful not to apply them as absolutes and explain why certain tendencies might be good or bad for your script. It was an attempt to move the discussion to a more useful level than the binary "These are The Rules/There are NO Rules" fights that every screenwriting board devolves into.

And then John August and Craig Mazin take on an article written by Ray Morton called "12 Signs of Promising Spec Script" and treat it like it's presented as holy writ with regard to all screenwriting.

*Sigh*

I've got a lot of respect for John and Craig and I don't know anything about this Ray Morton individual at all, so maybe I'm missing vital context as to why they went after his first-person article with such vehemence. If Morton's article was something like "12 Things Every Script MUST Have," I'd get it. But Morton isn't presenting his advice as if you're looking at the secret scorecard that all scripts are checked against. He's simply saying, "I've read a lot, and here are factors that tend to recur in the worst-written scripts."

Especially after reading the article and reviewing the transcript, I can't shake the observation that John and Craig seem to be turning Morton's piece into a strawman.

In a really telling moment, John says, "I think he’s also noticing patterns in his own response to things. And I think those are valid personal experiences. The frustration I have is that in observing his own personal reactions to things, then trying to go to the next step and codify these out as like these are things, prohibitions of things you should never do. And I think that is incorrect."

But.. I don't really think that's what this specific article IS doing.

I'll give John a little credit. He's usually the first of the two to concede that there's some kind of point being made in the article. While Craig is savaging the advice like "know who the protagonist is by page 5" and "something interesting must happen by page 10," John pipes up with, "I would basically stand up for him here. I think the overall point is that if by page five nothing interesting has happened, I’m going to have a harder time getting to page six."

This is where I'll remind everyone that a regular feature of Scriptnotes is the Three-Page Challenge. John and Craig read three pages of a script submitted by a reader and give their reactions to it. There are a lot of weeks where what they glean from those few pages doesn't sound terribly dissimilar to the sorts of diagnosis that Morton is making based on a history of reading entire scripts. Most weeks, a lack of clarity is a recurring issue with some of the submissions and if you pick apart Morton's article, a number of his issues are coming from the same place.

I'm not surprised that there's animosity between these gentlemen and the gurus who sell consulting services. Hell, I hate most of those guys too, so I'd be right there with them. If some idiot was charging $500 for you to attend his seminar and this was the sort of advice he was giving, I'd be all for dropping the hammer on him. Looking at the actual article, it's a pretty benign bit of first-person advice from someone who's a decent representative of the people whom companies have as their first-filter. Morton's biography claims he has read for Paramount and Columbia Pictures, among other companies and producers. He's also a freelance consultant and I get why that makes people like John and Craig wary. It makes ME wary. Yet his rates don't even seem all that out of line.

I've seen a lot worse advice coming from people with a lot less practical experience and much higher rates. That's all I'm saying.

Another part of Craig and John's discussion bugged me in how it was presented - their initial aggression that NONE of these RULES are ever true. And then if you listen, they kind of walk some of those assertions back. I wish it was that they'd lead with the point I quoted from John above and broke down what the reader was really saying when he was declaring these rules. Writers often talk about having to look for "the note behind the note." I think a lot could have come from examining "the flaw that spawned the 'rule.'"

(And I don't wish to dissect this at length, but it feels deeply disingenuous to use The Godfather as the film that disproves the "rules" when the article is specifically referring to spec scripts. Not only are most aspiring writers NOT Mario Puzo, who had a strong enough command of the form to have his audience hanging on every word, but The Godfather was not a spec as we think of them today.)

John and Craig's discussion comes from a place of "Don't let anybody tell you how to write!" But that's because John and Craig are seasoned enough at this that their process is innately effective. They don't think about "rules" because they don't have to. Aspects of writing that others have to think about, they do by instinct. If John August opens his script with a five page monologue, then it probably is because there's a definite REASON for it. And John's a good enough writer that it's probably a helluva speech that justifies that length.

It's like the "don't direct on the page" rule. Craig might say, "That's a stupid rule, I've never been told that! Hell, I've done it!" If he were to say that, I guarantee you that when Craig did it, it was unobtrusive. I also guarantee you that he probably didn't do it often in the script. (And more than likely, it was a scene where such direction was necessary for the clarity of what the audience does or does not see at that moment.)

BUT....

I've seen amateur scripts that really try to micromanage the directing. I'm talking about scripts where every other scene is noting a whip-pan, or a tracking shot or a camera move, or some other bit of photographic choreography. When people say, "Don't direct on the page," it's directed at THOSE guys. Clarity and brevity are two things a screenwriter should strive for and excessive camera direction is rarely either of those.

Guys at Craig and John's level are capable of writing strong description that captures the tempo and the flow of the scene so acutely that they don't need to say if the action provokes a close-up or a camera move. Why bluntly tell the director where to put the camera when good description subliminally leads him to that result AND has him convinced it was his idea?

The way I'd suggest thinking about it is if some reader tells you something that sounds like a rule, internalize it as "Oh man, some dumb bastard did that excessively!" Think moderation. If the "rule" is "Be between 90 and 120 pages," it doesn't mean that a script that's 89 or 121 pages is as egregiously offensive as the 160 page script. (If I glean from the first ten pages that this is a gross-out comedy and your page count is at 135, I admit, THAT is probably going to concern me. Conversely, if it seems like you're writing a WWII epic that clocks in at 75 pages, I'm also going to look askance at it.)

Look at how much space has been wasted on a debate over if the Rules are real and if John and Craig are right and wrong. It's clouding the real issue and all it accomplishes is the next time someone says, "Hey, maybe don't have your first page be made up of 3 sixteen-line paragraphs," instead of considering why they shouldn't do that, they'll say "Fuck you, man! Craig Mazin says there ARE no rules!"

That doesn't help you. This debate doesn't help you. It's a waste of your time and it's a waste of my time. So fuck the debate. Instead look past the rule and try to understand the writing pitfall it's trying to steer you away from.

Friday, March 27, 2015

theOffice announces its 2015 Fellowship!

I was recently contacted by my friends at theOffice who were trying to get the word out about their new 2015 Fellowship. Looks like a great opportunity!

Announcing the 2015 Fellowship to theOffice

If you're looking for the perfect place in LA to leave the distractions of life behind and finish that screenplay/novel/short story/what-have-you, enter now to win a FREE 6 month Premium Membership to theOffice.

theOffice is a quiet, communal workspace on 26th Street in Santa Monica (across from the Brentwood Country Mart). There are 26 ergonomic workstations in the room equipped with Aeron chairs, wifi, a reference library and all the coffee and tea you can handle. Charter and current members include JJ Abrams, Matthew Carnahan, Clark Gregg, Gigi Levangie Grazer, Jen Celotta, Gary Glasberg and many more. It's where serious writers go to GET IT DONE.

The contest is free to enter. All of the details are on theOfficeOnlineBlog.com.

Hurry!! Deadline to apply is April 15th.

Send Submissions to: theOfficeFellowship@gmail.com

Find us on Twitter: @theOffice_LA