Monday, March 07, 2005

From Ross Richie's premiere anthology book at BOOM!, (he's got a blog up until his main website's done) -- the first page of my story for ZOMBIE TALES. Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Geek Sunday

Just because I had lunch with Waid on Friday, a link to Ctrl+Alt+Del's take on the Fantastic Four.

And Warren reviews the new Doctor Who. I am giddy. I once dressed like the Tom Baker Doc for Halloween as a kid. Okay, in college. Okay, on my wedding night. Fine.

There's a joke in there about a full-size Dalek costume and a voice-synthed "De-virgin-ate! DE-VIRGIN-ATE!" but I don't have the heart for it.

Coming this week -- a preview of Ross Richie's new anthology book for his brand new company BOOM! Studios. It's filled with such luminaries as Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Andy Cosby, and a couple of us newbies.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Don't Panic.

So happy. So, so weepingly happy.

The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy
TRAILER in smooth-as-butter-Quicktime.

Writing: Adaptation (Pt. 4)

The Rules of Adaptation
(adapted from an article for CHUD)

Rule 3: "Respect the source material."
Rule 4: "Don't be afraid to screw with the source material."

Even a short novel clicks in at 300 pages. A script is around 120, with lots of blank lines. Only so many people in so many locations can be paraded on the screen in two-odd hours. When a character shows up, the screenwriter can't just lay down a couple pages of backstory like the novelist can -- they have to establish character through action and dialogue. Every page spent on one plot point is a page that comes out of another. When a writer's very good, all that seems effortless. But trust me, it's all whirring away under the surface, waiting to blow a gasket.

A while ago I had a run at adapting Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. Yes, yes I am unworthy, file your complaints at the door. Anyway, fifteen hundred pages of 1950's sci fi. Stunningly cerebral and emotionally wrenching at the same time. I starter writing, well, more like transcribing like an old monastery illuminationist. Scenes transposed untouched. Whole speeches lifted ver. Just transferring the geniuis from one medium to the next.

One character, Bayta, is crucial to the arc of the second book. Her virtue inspires certain people people to fall in love with her, to change, and the fallout from this changes the course of humanity's future over a millenium. Bayta is the center of the movie.

And Bayta is, essentially, a space housewife.

Foundation and Empire was written in 1952. Oh, Bayta is a very liberated space housewife, to be sure. She worked outside the home. For 1952, Asimov was writing some pretty progressive stuff. It wasn't Mary Tyler Moore dancing in her Capri pants for Rob's drunken voyeuristic friends (what was up with that?) but it was progressive. For 1952. Yet if I transposed this character literally, I'd be making Asimov's very relevant work reek of obsolescence.

Ok, then, think. Foundation is made up of scientists. Good, let's try her as a scientist. She has a stake now, an intellect, a voice. She's not a spectator, she has an agenda with Foundation and its plans. She has personal goals LINKED to story goals. There's now a reason she seeks out Foundation's enemies -- or Enemy, if you know the book. Heresy? Maybe. Better film-making? Hell yeah. My job's to write the movie, not Xerox (tm) the book.

However, the important thing isn't to gut the source for ego's sake. I've read those scripts, where a writer's peed all over a story to make it his. That's not adaptation, that's bullying. It's usually done by someone who never solved the "why do I love this story" question we addressed earlier.

What's odd is that the one group of authors who can complain about changes to their books -- the living ones -- have never had a problem with what I've done. There I am, wincing in anticipation when the draft goes in, and what comes back is joy. Matt Wagner loved the new character in Mage. Lee Child was incredibly gracious about my adaptation of Killing Floor. Greg Rucka dug Tara's new relationship with a character who'd been a one-page cameo in the book. I had to rewrite the entire ending to Matt Reilly's Ice Station, and he was not only fine with it, he pitched out some possibilities. Hell, unless Warren Ellis lies like James Earl Ray, even he liked the Global Frequency pilot screenplay. A book' s a static thing, for better or worse. When writers get a chance to breathe some more life into the work, they tend to enjoy it. They understand that writing is all about choices. Different choices allow them to see the work that might-have-been.

(This is not always true, of course. Alan Moore hates the movie adaptations of his work. He also hates, well, all of us. Yes, you too. No, I don't know why. Just be afraid.)

That concept of choice leads us to the last two big rules in the art of adaptation ...

Zogg want Milk!

Thanks to Digital Digressions, yet another grad student mucking about in the chaff of my mind, we have a book mash-up: The Cuddly Menace. This is precisely how I view small children, so Mom, don't hold out hope for another grand-kid -- unless the young 'uns in the Canadian compound's communal education center will count.

Richard then goes on to discuss machinima and mash-ups, with some excellent links. Go take a look.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Corner Gas

Hollywood Reporter yesterday and in the issue of Maclean's I received in the mail today -- both extolling the success of Brent Butt and his great comedy, Corner Gas.

Corner Gas is about the people living in Dog River, Saskatchewan. It seems warm and goofy at first, and then three episodes in you realize it's devastatingly sly and smart, with an absurdist deadpan no one in American broadcast television would ever have the stones to try. No huge convoluted laugh constructs, just pure weird funny sneaks up on you ep after ep. It creates that rarest of alchemies -- characters who you are perfectly content to hang out with, just hang out with, because they're charming and amusing as people.

That's it. No "He's a genius, she's neurotic!" orrrrrr "They need to live together, or they lose the inheritance!" orrrr "The kids have to move BACK IN" any of the other desperate high-concept thrashing slapped onto the American fall schedule every year.

Brent writes what he knows.*

Brent is funny. **

QED: show works.

Comedies (all shows, but let's stick to comedies right now) should always be written becasue someone has an original point of view, a funny point of view, they enjoy filtering the world through. The problem is, when you, as a professional televison writer, go in to PITCH, the executives are literally hearing dozens of show pitches that week, and for several weeks in a row. In order for you to pop, to get their attention, to jar them from their lethargy (and hell, anyone would be lethargic during this process), in order to get that tiny fraction of money allotted to all the ideas put forth every season, you have to stand out. And sadly, high-concept premises are what stand out. They stand out in your mind during the pitches, during development, even during the sales process if and when they're picked up.

And they fail.


It's worth noting that during the last great Growing Season of Sitcoms, stand-ups were king -- because stand-ups, by the nature of our odd little job, need to have well-developed worldviews. My perceptive manager Will Mercer always points out that, for all the TV deals made with stand-ups during the boom, none of the shows worked unless the comic had been a working road comic for at least seven years.

Character-character-character-character-when push comes to shove a successful show tells at least 100 stories and no one, NO ONE has 100 great stories in them. All shows are really about the characters, and the more the writers love those people, the more they just want to hang out with those characters week in and week out, hear their voices, nod at their arguments ... the better the show.

My other favorite Canadian show (Season 4 this year) is Trailer Park Boys. Shot faux-documentary style, the program follows the adventures of nominal losers living in a trailer park in Nova Scotia. I say "nominal", because again, these are gun-toting, Grade-ten-less, pot growers you'd be lucky to have as friends. The characters in both Trailer Park Boys and Corner Gas are never mocked as hicks. Their dignity is never stripped from them, regardless of the ludicrousness of their schemes or circumstances. If you told me I had to live in Dog River for the rest of my life, I'd be okay with that because they're decent, smart, funny people.

Who. Don't. Live. In. New. Fucking. YORK.

One might note that in this nascent little media hypothesis, the model for success is for a single voice to drive a small show, while the industry distributing these shows is built around the opposite. The conclusion of this hypothesis is that the system is inefficient, and broken.


In summary -- Brent Butt goddam wins, and it couldn't have happened to a finer comic or better guy. Congratulations.

* Although the guiding hand of supervising producer Mark Farrell is there, to be sure. Mark's a helluva writer, giving structure to Brent's whimsy.

** Brent is not just funny, he is terrifyingly funny.
I worked with Brent as a stand-up. He's effortless on stage, a great mix of cerebral and physical comic. I'd see him walk into the back of the room when I was working, and would change my routine so I didn't do the cheap stuff in front of him. I once did a tour with Brent and Derek Edwards that couldn't have been more nerve-wracking. I'd accept that, back in my road days anyway, there were a handful of Canadian comics as good as Brent. I'd squint pretty hard at any claiming to be better.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Quickest Quickdraw in the World

Raved about him, and then forgot to add him to the blogroll. The first man I'm recruiting for the post-apocalyptic compound, because he's insightful, stoic, heroic and he's got the fastest hands in the West.

Latigo Flint.