Tuesday, December 14, 2010

missing the walking dead already

Every Sunday evening, I got my fill of tea and zombies. AMC's The Walking Dead was something I looked forward to at the end of my weekend, as it visually had such feature film production quality, a believable cast, and good writing.

I found myself drawn to their pain, their constant need to move and protect themselves, their perpetual search for safety.

If you haven't seen it, or you're missing it, stream the first season (six episodes) here and be prepared to be horrified by its gruesome nature and impressed with its general awesomeness.

The Walking Dead is returning for a second season of 13 episodes...I can hardly wait for the chase!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Google launches google ebooks

Google does it again with the launch of Google ebooks, featuring three million book titles for online purchasing and reading. Google ebooks began selling books today, in an effort to compete with Apple and Amazon's e-commerce business.

Authors have the opportunity to upload their books and earn some extra bucks with Google ebook's Partner Program while publishers can also enter that program and get some added exposure for book titles.

Currently, Google ebooks is only available for US residents, but the company is looking to make the new marketplace internationally available in early 2011.

"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor," said Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google. "While this agreement is a real win-win for all of us, the real victors are all the readers. The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marsha Greene on showrunning

Looking for a career in television? Itching to get into the writers room?

We all have to pay our dues, as Marsha Greene so clearly demonstrates. Find out what this aspiring showrunner has learned from her experience as a showrunner's assistant.

The Basics-

Show: Wingin' It (Season 2)

Network: Family Channel

Production Company: Temple Street Productions

Episodes: 28 (it started as 13, then got an order for 15 more)

Showrunner: Frank van Keeken

What were your expectations before you started working as a showrunner's assistant?

During my interview with Frank, he told me there would be a fair amount of so-called menial tasks like getting him coffee and running errands, so I was prepared to check my ego on those counts. But we had also agreed in the interview that I would be able to spend time on set and in the writers room when I had down time. So in general, I went into the experience thinking it would be a great education on how a television show gets made from a creative and production standpoint. I also had the thought that it was really important for me to impress Frank and get him to see me as a potential writer.

Did the outcome match your expectations?

In some ways, the experience exceeded my expectations. Shortly after I started, Frank told me that I was welcome to pitch story ideas in the room, which I eventually did. Near the end of production, the writer’s assistant and I co-wrote one of the webisodes for the show. I was blown away to get those opportunities, as I had anticipated just being a fly in the room. By the end of the show, I really felt like I belonged in the writers room and became very close with the writers, which was far beyond what I expected. At the same time, Frank was very busy and not in the room as much as I thought he would be, so he never really saw my potential as a writer, which was disappointing.

I did not anticipate the long hours I was going to work. As Frank’s assistant, I was expected to be wherever he was, for however long. There were days when there was less than an 8-hour turnaround from when I left work to when I had to be back. There were weeks that we worked late every day. There were days I literally felt like a zombie. It’s exhausting, and it also pretty much isolates you from having a life outside of work. So I did not see that coming. Also, I had a lot of down time, which was hard, because there’s nothing worse than being exhausted and having nothing to do. Time moves very slowly on set – there’s a lot of stopping, resetting, wardrobe changing, etc. So if you’re just an observer, it is not always fast-paced and exciting. Even in the room, there were times when the writers were working independently, so there really wasn’t any way for me to participate.

Also, while I was prepared to check my ego at the door, I was not prepared for how hard that would be sometimes! There were times that I got yelled at or blamed for things that I didn’t feel were my fault, but I also felt like I had to take it and keep my mouth shut. So I really had to have a thick skin and not take it personally, which I had anticipated to a certain extent, but it does take its toll.

What is a typical day like for a showrunner's assistant?

I arrived at work at 7:30 am, unless call time was later. I brought Frank breakfast or coffee. I went to our office (Frank and I shared an office) and checked the inbox to see if there was anything that needed to be filed (deal memos, clearance forms, updated cast/crew lists, etc). I checked the Prep Schedule to see if Frank had any meetings at lunch. I checked my email. Sometimes Frank would have emailed me the day before with a list of things to do, which could be anything from calling Bell to find out about his charges, to doing research on chickens. I also checked the writers room email, which was not a requirement, but something that I liked to do because it gave me a chance to see the notes that had come in from Frank, the studio or the networks.

At 9:15 am, I left to pick up some of the writers at the subway station to have them back at work by 10 am (which was their start time). The rest of the day varied a little. I checked on Frank every few hours to see if he needed anything (he spent the entire day on set). I was in charge of petty cash for Frank and the writers, so I would sometimes have to submit expenses. Other than that, I would spend time in the writers room, sometimes just observing, sometimes pitching if they were doing a pass on a script on-screen. I would also hang out on set, talk to people, observe the different directors to see how they worked and how they interacted with Frank. Every day I ate lunch in the writers room and we watched dailies. We also watched audition tapes for guest roles on the show and I would follow up with the casting agent to confirm who Frank wanted for the role or if he wanted to organize another casting session. If Frank and the writers were working late, I would arrange for/pick up dinner for Frank.

I should explain “working late”: Because Frank spent all day on set, but he also had to read and approve each script, we had to wait for shooting to be wrapped before Frank would come into the writers room to go over the scripts. Frank, all of the writers, the writer’s assistant and I would sit in the room and “do a pass” on a script – the pass could be to make sure the stories tracked or to punch-up the jokes. So if shooting wrapped at 8 pm, the room might be going over a script until midnight, 1 am, 2 am, once it was 4 am (that was my birthday, actually!). The writers would sometimes come in later the next day, or still be expected to come at 10, whereas Frank and I would return for call time the next day.

How can a showrunner's assistant impress the writers?

I asked one of the writers this question and he said: pitch. I think it’s important to pitch and participate, but at the same time not be too aggressive. Sometimes it’s better to just observe and offer suggestions when needed, rather than just imposing your ideas on the script. Other times, it’s important to show them that you do have ambition. Ask for their help or advice, not just because they will likely help you, but also because it will show them that you are serious about writing.

I think one thing that really impressed the writers in regard to me was my attitude. I was always upbeat, happy to be there, smiling, and that can be important when everyone is tired and cranky.

What are you aspiring to be? Has your ultimate goal of becoming showrunner changed after working this gig?

I want to be a showrunner and that goal has not changed, but it has been clarified. This experience really showed me everything you need to know and do to be a good showrunner, so while I still have that as an end goal in my mind, I am prepared to take my time and learn as much as possible before I get there. Right now, I am setting my sights on being in the writers room.

What have you learned from your position?

Re: Being a showrunner

There is so much you need to know and understand to be a showrunner on set, because if you have the power to make the final decision, you need to know what you’re talking about. You need to understand how much things cost, in terms of money and in terms of time. You can’t always just think from a creative point of view – ideally, you can marry the creative to the practical and get the effect you want.

A showrunner has to be decisive and yet flexible. You have to be willing to take the reigns, lead the troops, make the tough decisions. At the same time, you can’t let that go to your head to the point that you won’t let anyone else make a decision, you only trust your own judgment, and you are closed off to other people’s ideas or opinions.

A showrunner needs to motivate his writers and his crew. When everyone is working long, hard hours, the showrunner has to keep everyone striving for the very best product by doing their best work. It’s not an easy task.

Re: Being a writer

You need to know yourself as a writer. Some people are really good at pitching or making jokes. Others are great at structure. Some understand emotionality. Knowing what your strength is will help you find a place in the room and contribute to the best of your ability. It’s important to know/do all of those things, but it’s only natural that you will be better at some than others.

What are some tips you can provide for other aspiring showrunners/writers who land their first gig as a showrunner's assistant?

I think it’s most important to know that the experience I had is not necessarily the bible on being a showrunner’s assistant. Different showrunners have different expectations, different schedules, different ways of working. There was a writer on the show who was astonished at the hours we worked – on her previous show, they usually finished at 6, and a late night was 8. Also, some showrunners might give their assistant more responsibility. In most ways, I was Frank’s personal assistant, in charge of doing things he wasn’t able to because of his demanding schedule. So it’s important that the person ask in the interview what the job will entail, because I am certain it will vary depending on the show and the showrunner.

Other tips

Don’t take it personally. This job is not for the faint of heart. If you’re an assistant, you’re probably going to get shit on sometimes. There is definitely a hierarchy in television and status means a lot. So don’t complain and don’t cry. If you do either of those things, people will probably remember and may not ask you to come back. Take the hits and keep on smiling, because some people will notice that and commend you on your strength. Don’t let other people define you – you may be an assistant today, but next year you could be a coordinator, or a junior writer, or have created your own show.

Make as many contacts as you can. Unlike the writers, who are holed up in a room for most of the time, I had the freedom to move around and get to know people. So a lot of the crew knew who I was and I developed relationships with people like the production coordinator, the trainee A.D., even the locations manager. You never know when that will come in handy. I also have great relationships with the writers, and I know that will be useful in the future as well.

It’s up to you to get what you want out of the job. Though I said that Frank was much busier than I thought, I still think there were opportunities to connect with him that I missed. The job was so much more exhausting than I thought, so I often chose sleep over ambition. But I could have come to work earlier to spend one-on-one time with him, I could have been more aggressive with him to read my writing, I could have spent more of my down time at work writing.

Finally, if you want to be a writer, this is probably one of the best jobs you can get outside of… well, being a writer. As I saw it, only the writer’s assistant and I had unlimited access to the room. Though other people on set might approach Frank or one of the writers with “a great idea for a show,” the writer’s assistant and I were really the only “outsiders” whose ideas were welcome. For me, that outweighed the not-so-great aspects of the job. And really, I left the job with a writing credit for the webisode, so any person wanting to be a writer should be happy to take the job if only for that possibility.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

the future of print

Social media and networking have transformed the way we read, write, and share information. Because of the new way we see information, professionals that work in print have voiced their concerns over these changes.

"Is print dead?"

"What can I do to keep up with the times?"

Almost every print newspaper and magazine Tweets, posting links to articles to generate more traffic to their sites. And if they have followers on Twitter, you can bet that people "like" them on Facebook.

It seems as though the print publications that have embraced social media marketing are the ones that are doing well, transmitting information across all kinds of platforms and mediums.

An editor recently forwarded me this link, discussing the power of print magazines, with several magazine and readership facts. One that I found particularly interesting is, "Since Facebook was founded, magazines gained more than one million young adult readers" and that the readership in the 18-34 age range continues to grow. (Source MRI)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

saying goodbye to jackie burroughs

Although she played a rigid character as Hetty King on Road to Avonlea and Amelia Evans in Anne of Green Gables, people that knew her say she was anything but that. Shirley Douglas described her as "a volcano to work with".

After a struggle with stomach cancer, Burroughs died in her Toronto home yesterday.

The British-Canadian actress had a successful career on screen and stage, with several Genies and Geminis to her credit, and won the Governor General's Award for performing arts in 2005. She also earned the Earle Grey Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

Thank you, Jackie Burroughs, for your time and talent.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Two thumbs up for White Irish Drinkers

With: Nick Thurston, Geoff Wigdor, Karen Allen, Stephen Lang, Peter Riegert, Leslie Murphy, Zachary Booth, Ken Jennings.

I can't think of a better way to end TIFF 2010 than to watch a film that had the entire audience in tears.

Writer/director John Gray's moving film, White Irish Drinkers, is a story about two brothers living in a working class Brooklyn home, with an abusive father and a well-meaning mother. Danny (Geoff Wigdor) plays a violent young man who makes a living stealing. He's the target of abuse in the household, as his younger brother, Brian (Nick Thurston) is an artist. Yes, a gifted artist living amongst anguish, violence, and a neighbourhood that evokes feelings of hopelessness. And because he is so different from people around him, he just may have a chance to get out and live a better life.

White Irish Drinkers has a stellar cast, as Stephen Lang delivers a compelling performance as a deeply troubled alcoholic who has a hard time connecting with his family...and resorts to insulting and beating his eldest son. Karen Allen is the classic mother who tries to keep the peace in the household but fails every time.

Nick Thurston is mesmerizing. His eyes are quite haunting and hard to turn away from. He plays his part beautifully, a delicate balance between a strong artistic spirit and a vulnerable heart.

At the end of the screening, John Gray held an intimate Q and A, where I learned that the film was shot in 17 days, and like most brilliant films, had a low budget. While he and his team mostly worked in television, they wanted to do something "just for them" which turned out to be a film that most people in the audience echoed "this really brought back memories of my childhood."

White Irish Drinkers has yet to secure a distribution deal, which I don't think they will have much trouble getting. A riveting story with powerful performances.

Monday, August 30, 2010

2010 Emmy Recap

I LOVED the Emmys this year. One of the best parts were the segments that proposed questions to writers, creators, producers, and directors of the series such as "What's the worst note you ever received from a network"? No drainage of material there.

As a huge fan of Modern Family, I was ecstatic that they won top comedy and best writing. My spec script is worth so much more now...or is it?

Here's a category I will never understand: Outstanding Reality Program. You can almost hear the writers mutter under their breaths when THAT award is announced. As if it isn't difficult enough to create/sell/get staffed on a scripted series...

Other memorable moments/discoveries:
- Pretty sure Julie Osmond is insane
- Lauren Graham and Matthew Perry should never present an award together again
- Eric Stonestreet is just as lovely as "Cameron"
- Lea Michele's cupcake candle
- You can never get enough of Betty White
- Jimmy Fallon as Billy Joel

My vote for next year's host: the Glee-ful Jane Lynch.

Also, WHERE was Christopher Lloyd?!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

less than kind news

Yesterday was a sad, sad day as our office learned that Canada lost a talented writer and comedian, Maury Chaykin. One of my favourite shows on TV now is Less Than Kind, where Chaykin plays the father in an ordinary Winnipeg family.

Eye Weekly has a nice little tribute to some of the work Chaykin's done.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cineflix is Going Scripted!

I was pleased to hear that Cineflix is moving into scripted programming a couple days ago. Christina Wayne will be leading the Cinelix Studios as its president.

Because of the rise of reality shows and lifestyle programming, many writers have been disheartened by the industry. Even though most reality shows have some scripting (some more than others), half-hour and one-hour writers have been yearning for more scripted programming, with strong narratives, memorable and well-rounded characters, and interesting story lines.

For more information on Cineflix's news, click here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

2010 Emmy Nominees Announced!

I'm actually pretty happy with the Emmy nominee list this year. I have my favourites, like everyone else, and am personally rooting for the following:

Best Comedy: Modern Family Best Drama: The Good Wife
Best Actress, Drama: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Best Actor, Drama: Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Best Actor, Comedy: Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm (even though I've got a hunch Parsons will win)
Best Actress, Comedy: Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Best Supporting Actor, Drama: Michael Emerson
Best Supporting Actress, Drama: Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Best Supporting Actor, Comedy: Eric Stonestreet
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy: Sofia Vergara (but I think Jane Lynch might win this one)

This year, the Emmys will be on Sunday, August 29.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hello Act 4...

...thought you'd be gone 'til November.

I'm writing the pilot of an original one-hour. It's only the first draft I keep telling myself. Just get it on the screen and worry about the little things later. Easier said. I've hit several blocks along the way, particularly in Act 3. I keep worrying that my characters are too flat and the dialogue too drawn out.

And then I hear voices (not the usual ones), whisper "focus on the story," "the story is key". Yes, very true. Every time I worry about anything other than the story, I get frustrated, leave my work station, and decide I need another coffee. Or I walk up and down the stairs, wondering why I didn't pay more attention in math class--I could've been an accountant!

Then I return to my desk, poke around old notes, quotes, and sayings I collect to keep me motivated, and read a few that relate to writing.

One of my personal favourites: "Just get it down on paper, and then we'll see what to do about it." I scribbled the quote on my whiteboard, facing my desk. Anytime I feel like I've hit a wall, I just look up and read it.

Get the story out, tell the damn story. Then go back for the little things.