Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Hiatus

The fall finales have come and gone. The TiVo's to-do list is blissfully empty. I loves me some TV, but I'm as ready for a break as anyone, not leastly because I have a lot of writing to do.

I'm signing off here until the New Year. Enjoy some holiday flicks, why dontcha? Here's a list to get you started, reprinted from last year.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - Darker and wittier than you remember.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS - WARNING! VERY IMPORTANT!! I mean the ANIMATED version, with charming Chuck Jones art and plummy voice work by Boris Karloff. Not the Jim Carrey redundancy, for the love of Fah who for-aze.

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY - Not strictly speaking a Christmas movie, but many of the story's key moments happen at the holidays. The season of groveling, revelatory Mallomars.

MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL - I'm serious. Michael Caine gives excellent deadpan as Scrooge in the face of adorableness (Fozziwig!) and catchy songs, but the movie gets scary and sad right when it's supposed to. All that and mini Miss Piggies. Get over yourself and rent it.

THE THIN MAN - Another not-quite-Christmas movie, but who cares when you have William Powell shooting ornaments off the tree with a BB gun while Myrna Loy watches, amused, in a new fur coat? In a movie that glimmers with champagne dialogue, this wordless moment is a standout.

THE GODFATHER - Okay, okay, I'll stop cheating, but the Godfather saga is framed around moments rich with ritual and family significance: weddings, baptisms, the holidays. I love Al Pacino's tense and terrifying vigil at the creepy, Christmas-quiet hospital.

A CHRISTMAS STORY - Some time ago I came across a rant against this movie, which I just don't get. So it's faux nostalgic. Nostalgia is false almost by definition. A CHRISTMAS STORY is funny, sweet, just arch enough, and yes, authentic, capturing the tribulations and joy of being a kid at yuletide. Plus Peter Billingsley now is poker buddies with Vince Vaughn, so there's that.

BAD SANTA - Christmastime sucks for a lot of people. BAD SANTA is bleak and funny and has heart without dipping into sentimentality. Co-stars Lauren Graham as a Santa fetishist. Oh, Lorelai!

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

WGA Television Nominations

Awards season is truly in full swing. Here're more TV noms, this time from the Writers Guild of America.


  • 24
  • LOST

    Excellent list overall, but special huzzahs for hoopleheads, laudanum addicts, jaw-clenching sheriffs, and c**ksuckers!


  • 30 ROCK

    I watch some of these.


  • 30 ROCK
  • STUDIO 60

    Yowza, tough call. And what's up with the dueling shows about sketch comedy shows?

    EPISODIC DRAMA - single episode

  • "Election Day, Part II" (THE WEST WING), Written by Eli Attie & John Wells
  • "Occupation/Precipice" (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), Written by Ronald D. Moore
  • "Two for the Road" (LOST), Written by Elizabeth Sarnoff & Christina M. Kim
  • "The End of the Whole Mess" (NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES: FROM THE STORIES OF STEPHEN KING), Teleplay by Lawrence D. Cohen, Based on the short story by Stephen King
  • "Pilot" (STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP), Written by Aaron Sorkin
  • "Pilot" (BIG LOVE), Witten by Mark V. Olsen & Will Scheffer

    Godsdammit, BSG is finally on one of these awards lists. About. Frakkin'. Time. The show won a Peabody Award, people!

    EPISODIC COMEDY - single episode

  • "It Takes Two" (DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES), Written by Kevin Murphy & Jenna Bans
  • "Don’t Look At Me" (DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES), Written by Josh Senter
  • "Bomb Shelter" (MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE), Written by Rob Ulin
  • "Casino Night" (THE OFFICE), Written by Steve Carell
  • "The Coup" (THE OFFICE), Written by Paul Lieberstein
  • "Jump for Joy" (MY NAME IS EARL), Written by Vali Chandrasekaran

    I'm not sure I watched any of these.

    So there you have it. But again, no THE WIRE! Argh.
  • Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Golden Globe Nominations

    The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has spoken! The key TV noms:


  • 24 (FOX) Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television i.a.w. Real Time Prods.
  • BIG LOVE (HBO)Anima Sola and Playtone Prods. i.a.w. HBO Entertainment
  • GREY'S ANATOMY (ABC)Touchstone Television
  • HEROES (NBC)NBC Universal Television Studios i.a.w. Tailwind Prods.
  • LOST (ABC)Touchstone Television

    Nice list! Yay, freshman HEROES, for making the cut.


  • DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC)Touchstone Television
  • ENTOURAGE (HBO)Leverage and Closest to the Hole Prods. i.a.w. HBO Entertainment
  • THE OFFICE (NBC)Deedle Dee Prods. with Reveille i.a.w. NBC Universal Television Studio
  • UGLY BETTY (ABC)Touchstone Television
  • WEEDS (SHOWTIME)Showtime i.a.w. Lionsgate Television and Tilted Prods., Inc.

    No weak ones here either. Expect this category to get more competitive as more light dramas like DESEPERATE HOUSEWIVES, WEEDS, and UGLY BETTY enter the grid. Btw, just started watching WEEDS this season -- love it.



    No surprises here. I'm a fan of all these shows; no idea how I'd vote if I had to.



    Oof, did James Gandolfini lose his spot to Michael C. Hall (love his creepy-cool-adorable performance on DEXTER) or Bill Paxton? THE SOPRANOS is a masterwork, but I'm all for new blood. So to speak, in DEXTER's case.



    Go, America, playing in the big leagues! Julia Louis-Dreyfus deserves much credit for showing that conventional 3-camera sitcoms can still be funny, but I like Mary-Louise Parker's hilarious, spirited, and tender "Lacey LaPlante" FTW.



    Alec steals every scene of 30 ROCK that he's in, and no jury in the world would convinct him.



    The supporting actor categories are an utter comparing-apples-to-bicycles situation, no?



    More apples and bicycles. How do you choose between obnoxious superagent Ari Gold and the Earl of frakkin' Leicester? Still, loving that Masi Oka is in there.

    Any misfires, according to you? Who's missing that should be on here? THE WIRE and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA are two, for me. Anyone on who shouldn't be?
  • Sunday, December 03, 2006

    (Almost) A Massive Waste of Time

    On a recent flight I read the first issue of Massive, the new magazine about MMOGs. The poor thing is hovering perilously close to fishwrap quality.

    Massive needs help. Chiefly, Massive needs a firm editorial hand:

  • Sure, it's interesting to read a blurb about the gender split of MMOG players-- but the pie chart accompanying the text actually shows the player base's age breakdown by gender.

  • A description of ArenaNet's new Nightfall expansion for Guild Wars both spells the company's name wrong and misidentifies the two new character classes as "factions."

  • The colorful (and memorable) phrase "800 lb. gorilla" is used twice in the magazine. Guess I should be happy it wasn't used twice in the same article.

    Nitpicky? Maybe, but it's too bad that Massive shows so little of the editorial zing and professional polish of its parent mag Computer Games.

    Other problems are more glaring. One huge section lists mini-descriptions of pretty much every MMOG out there, including some nifty-sounding ones I hadn't heard of before (Ooh!) but fails to provide URLs where you could, y'know, go learn about them or play them (D'oh!).

    The layout and graphics are solid, but one funny article about chatspeak suffers from a printing error, with half the untranslated lines of text missing.

    The best content of the magazine apart from the teasing URL-free catalog of current games is the selection of editorials from many of the MMOGinati, including Raph Koster, Nick Yee, Richard Garriott, and Richard Bartle (recapping his keynote from the 2005 Austin Game Conference).

    But even Raph notes that most of what can be written about MMOGs has been (albeit not necessarily in a dead-tree periodical), and the most interesting topics aren't quite ready to be talked about yet. Also, Massive may've shot their wad too soon given the sheer number of editorials. At this rate they'll burn through all the top tier developers and researchers in, oh, three issues.

    And I'm not sure what's served by peppering the magazine with irrelevant newsbits about knitting guilds and contested gold in the mountains of Chile.

    I may pick up the second issue, if there is one -- MMOG magazines have launched and failed before -- but here's hoping the folks behind Massive can regroup, with a l33t editor at the helm FTW.
  • Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Robert Altman

    One of America's great directors has passed away. Just a few films from his remarkable career:







    I also really enjoyed his last film, the gently elegaic A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION.

    They can't all be gems -- the same man brought us POPEYE and PRET-A-PORTER, after all -- but Altman, presented with an Honorary Academy Award just this past year, long deserved a real Oscar. Maybe even more than one.

    At least we have his body of work and legacy. THE PLAYER is pretty much the definitive cinematic depiction of modern Hollywood. Without it, would there be an ENTOURAGE? Without MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, we wouldn't have DEADWOOD; without MASH, we wouldn't have... well, MASH.

    And every ensemble, multi-threaded narrative -- especially with characters talking over each other as real people do -- tends to be labeled "Altmanesque." You gotta be pretty special to get turned into an adjective.

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Keeping the LIGHTS On

    More welcome pickup news: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS got their full-season order.

    If you're not watching this show, please start. Doesn't matter if you're not into football. This show is about football in the way that ROCKY is about boxing, or BULL DURHAM is about baseball: as catalyst and metaphor as much as the actual sport.

    The storytelling is so deft that something as theoretically low-key as a high school football game -- hell, a single play in a high school football game -- carries emotional stakes as big as saving the world.

    Filmed almost documentary-style, LIGHTS foregrounds details that give depth and authenticity to the stories it tells. Characters talk over each other. Fancy meals are eaten at Applebee's. The camera rests briefly on a Bible then moves to its owner, a player studying his playbook-- his second Bible. The coach goes to visit his quarterback, and over their conversation we see the boy's grandmother hurrying to put some cake on a plate for their guest. That is 100% South, folks.

    All that and murderball, with real quad rugby players.

    FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is something special. Watch it and let NBC know they made a good call, y'hear?

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    It's Raining MEN

    DEXTER is one of my favorite shows right now. HEROES, another fave, features humor and heroics but also had a teenager waking up to her flayed-open, autopsied chest. I've seen every episode of both CSI (Classic) and COLD CASE, with its period soundtracks to all manner of grisly deaths.

    I like dark.

    Nonetheless, my soft nougaty center is charmed by MEN IN TREES, so I was glad to hear that the show just got its back 9 order and a shift to the golden 10pm Thursday spot behind GREY'S ANATOMY.

    MEN IN TREES is like a chick lit version of NORTHERN EXPOSURE. The writing is clever (the creator is a SEX AND THE CITY alum), the characters fun, the stories sweet and relatable.

    Here's hoping it does well behind the GREY'S powerhouse, because although I loves me some shadowy stuff, we need more hourlong dramas in which no one dies.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006


    Growing up, September 30 was an incredibly exciting day, because that was the deadline my mother set for my sister and I to decide what we wanted to be for Halloween.

    Ohboyohboyohboy! We could change our minds all through September as much as we wanted, but by that final day, decisions had to be made.

    Because then the costumes had to be made. Mom was and is an amazing seamstress, and we abused this unmercifully without meaning to.

    Sure, we hit the staples like fairies, princesses, and fairy princesses. Those were easy. But we also wanted to be Greek goddesses, cardboard lyre courtesy of Dad. Pre-Disney mermaids. And what nutcase little girl of eight wants to be a can-can dancer for Halloween? Erm.

    One standout year I was a tiny Wonder Woman, my outfit a rockin' bathing suit that got used the following summer. Holy cats. That is a lotta love, Mom.

    I still enjoy dressing up for Halloween, but haven't had a whole lot of opportunity recently.

    Well, not in person, anyway. Tonight, I was dressed as a Paragon in the land of Elona. Translated from the geek, The Boyfriend and I celebrated Halloween virtually. Guild Wars, like most MMOs, had a Halloween event complete with sound effects and decorations both scary, such as images of skulls and apocalyptic steeds in a fevered sky, and silly, like a big ol' TP'd tree.

    The highlight was a visit from the pumpkin-headed Mad King, who had the crowd doing tricks -- playing rock-paper-scissors, laughing at bad jokes -- in exchange for goofy spells and effects. If you didn't comply, you were slain (to rez a moment later). Trick or treat!

    Last weekend we checked out City of Heroes/Villains' Halloween event. Like last year, players could "knock" on doors all around town and you'd either get a powerup treat of some kind, or a trick. Meaning, various undead beasties like vampires and zombies would spill out and try to kill you. The devs also handed out free costume tokens, so you could take your hero to the tailor for a new festive look. I tried out a pirate (of course) and a slutty devil girl, and The Boyfriend made a very respectable Star Trek Vulcan before settling on firebolt-wielding Amish Guy.

    In other words, my only partying this All Hallow's Eve was in a computer game.

    Oh yeah.

    Because that's how I roll.

    Happy Halloween, everybody!

    Monday, October 23, 2006


    Saw it this weekend. Good movie. Not perfect, but really good. I can tell I liked it because I find myself still thinking about it, hearing in my head the searing Irish-punk song that plays throughout. I'm toying with going to see the movie again, which is unheard of for me these days.

    Sure, it's got the head-splorching gunfight action you'd expect to see from a Scorsese movie (his best since GOODFELLAS, hands down), but it's also funny, moving, and yes, deep. It's about fathers, sons, brothers, where we find family, how family shapes us.

    Like MYSTIC RIVER, THE DEPARTED evokes Shakespeare, and the bloodier Jacobean playwrights. Unlike MYSTIC RIVER, the references play. MYSTIC RIVER wishes it was this movie.

    I saw it with a pretty full house, and there was one moment that elicited an audible gasp from the crowd. Don't remember the last time I experienced that.

    Other moments caused laughter, not because they were funny -- desperately not, in most cases -- but because there was so much tension that when it was dispelled, we made that little involuntary laugh of relief or shock.

    The cast is fantastic. Smooth deceiver Matt Damon, noble Martin Sheen, fury-powered Mark Wahlberg, hilarious Alec Baldwin, Jack being Jack, whip-smart but vulnerable Vera Farmiga holding her own.

    And while I've never drunk the kool-aid about Leonardo diCaprio before, he is outstanding in this. Performance of his life, to date.

    Plus, he spends most of the movie looking like Eric Dane, McSteamy from GREY'S ANATOMY.

    This is not a bad thing.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Warner Brothers? I Don't Even Know Her Brothers

    Just found out today that I've been accepted into the Warner Bros. Television Writing Workshop.

    Color me excited with a big ol' excited-colored crayon!

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    The First Taste is Free

    Casual game devs and distributors are learning (happily) that their market will in fact buy richer games than the typical match 3 and I Spy clones if given the opportunity. Aveyond and Fate, well-crafted and deep "lite" RPGs, are selling well for the big casual game portals.

    Positioned correctly, could games like these -- and simpler ones yet -- be the gateway drug to draw players into World of Warcraft or other non-casual games? Runescape is a massive hit on Miniclip, after all. NCSoft packaged the character creator tool for City of Heroes as a separate app for the game's Korean release, before legal issues led to their pulling it down.

    Here are a few "gateway games":

  • Warthog Launch - Okay, so Halo isn't really about launching warthogs inyo the air with well-placed explosives. But this casual minigame is good practice.

  • DevastationZone Troopers - Doesn't require a video card for pretty solid 3D graphics and shoot 'em up sci fi gameplay. Destructible earthworks, weapon upgrades, spinning alien robot saws. Whee!

  • WoW Connect - Matching game using the skill icon graphics for World of Warcraft. Doesn't do much to introduce players to WoW proper, but it is enticing to see all the nifty button art for the various classes.

  • Murloc RPG - This, I love. The gamemaker cleverly (and, erm, illegally?) took assets from World of Warcraft to make a super-lightweight RPG. You go on quests, slay beasts, level up, shop for equipment, and specialize in skills. Looks and sounds great (of course). And best of all, you play as a murloc! Raaagggfflpfhh!

    Any other such games you particularly like? Casual games that could be considered feeders into deeper game experiences?
  • Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    World of Parkcraft

    Okay, so that doesn't work.

    Still... TiVo alert!

    SOUTH PARK's 10th season debuts tonight, and 'tis all about World of Warcraft.

    Oh my god, they ganked Kenny!

    UPDATE: So, that was weird. Fun for me, but I speak gamer, MMOG dialect in particular.

    Waaaaayyyy more insidery than I was expecting, not to mention pretty much a big ol' ad for the game, the jellied and pimpled physiques of the boys not withstanding.

    For people who don't play WoW, was the episode at all entertaining, I wonder, never mind comprehensible?

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    What, No Arlecchino?

    Last night's ep of STUDIO 60 reminded me of this oldie-but-goodie statshot from The Onion.

    Sunday, September 17, 2006

    Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

    Deep breath, kids, the fall TV season is about to begin!

    It's actually on a rolling start as we speak, of course. I'm already enjoying HOUSE, STANDOFF, and MEN IN TREES, although I'm not sure how many of those will survive the rotation once the season gets up a full head of steam.

    My TiVo's ready to pounce on:

    STUDIO 60

    I'll also probably sample FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and WHAT ABOUT BRIAN.

    Season's passes are set for some shows, the rest I'll give a few episodes before signing away more hours of my life than are embarrassingly accounted for with the above.

    And that's just the stuff that hasn't aired yet. Still watching PROJECT RUNWAY (Go Michael! Go Laura!). And damn you, pay cable, with your WEEDS and THE WIRE and MINOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF JACKIE WOODMAN!

    What about you? What's topping your must-see list?

    Friday, September 15, 2006

    M$ L33tspeak Glossary FTW!!!!111

    I just love how adorably earnest this parents' guide to l33tz0r lingo from Microsoft is.

    Imagine it read aloud in a soothing Marlin-Perkins-Mutual-of-Omaha's-Wild-Kingdom voice: "Though it was originally used by computer hackers and online gamers ('leet' is a vernacular form of 'elite'), leet has moved into the Internet mainstream. Your kids might use it online for fun, and you might even have seen a word or two used by your own friends and associates online."

    Teh r0xx0rz!

    Monday, September 11, 2006


    Has it really been five years?

    Being in California, by the time I heard about the attacks they were long over, and the painful digging out and recovery underway.

    I'd been out running, and The Boyfriend called me at about 8:30am Pacific time.

    What's up? I asked, wondering why he was awake at what was for him 0-dark-thirty.

    Turn on the TV, he said.

    I turned on the TV.

    Downtown Manhattan was my home for two years while I was in graduate school, and a favorite long-weekend vacation spot for my family. Mom, Sis, and I would go vintage clothes shopping on Lower Broadway while Dad got half-price theater tickets at the World Trade Center TKTS booth, a well-kept secret with lines much shorter than the Times Square one. I'd been there myself, marveling at the massive, airy lobby of cool marble and odd, narrow windows of the offices above.

    Never visited the top. Never went to Windows on the World, even though they had regular swing dance nights with bands I liked. I always thought there'd be time.

    There is never enough time.

    I heard on the news this morning that statistically 20% of Americans know someone who was killed or injured in the attacks. While I don't know how this figure was arrived at, the scope of the tragedy and the fact that key locations were major U.S. cities make the circle of those who were affected quite large.

    Most people I know are only a degree or two away from a victim or survivor. Friends of friends of mine died; a woman I worked with had a blood relative on one of the planes.

    The circle grows very large indeed when you include the millions who've served and are are serving in the two wars that resulted.

    Here are a few photos from around the world that day, which are to me very moving in the way they convey support and connectedness in the face of tremendous loss.

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    Sublime Primetime: Emmy-Nominated Writers Panel

    Meant to write this up ages, ago, sorry! On August 24, the Writers Guild Foundation and the Hollywood Reporter presented their annual panel of Emmy-nominated writers. This year's roll call:

    Carlton Cuse - LOST
    Doug Ellin - ENTOURAGE
    Damon Lindelof - LOST
    Ian Maxtone-Graham - THE SIMPSONS
    Cliff Schoenberg - PENN & TELLER: BULLSHIT!
    Krista Vernoff - GREY'S ANATOMY

    Dennis Miller was the moderator. He was mostly well-behaved (more on that later), and opened first with a zinger at the loooooong clip reel of all the nominated writers in all categories, and then gave a tip o' the hat to the guy translating the whole show into American Sign Language. The guy wasn't lit for the first few introductions and Dennis prompted him sympathetically, "How do you say 'Turn the fucking light on'?"

    It was pretty meta -- and funny -- watching the guy sign the question and then answer the question vocally, signing his answer as he spoke. The signer guy was kind of a highlight of the show, amazingly expressive in his face and body. Must be an actor.

    Dennis' first question to the panel was the moment at which they knew their show had hit the big time.

  • Doug: When people on the street started asking him and the cast if Vince was doing AQUAMAN.
  • Carlton: Seeing the ratings from the pilot.
  • Damon: Hearing his mother tell him, [Jersey accent] "I'm very interested in this Dharma Initiative." [/Jersey accent]
  • Ian: His show obviously was trundling along quite well before he got there, he's just trying not to screw things up.
  • Cliff: It's hit the big time? It is exciting that the show was getting critical acclaim, he said, especially since no one has Showtime.

    Dennis (I think it was him. My notes are sketchy and almost completely illegible) interjected a joke about why God is thanked at the Oscars but not in Emmy winners' speeches. If God was with Emmy winners, they'd be working in films.

    Ian and Dennis bonded over what's apparently a vintage Lorne Michaels note: Lorne apparently gets his boxers in a bunch when actors in a sketch set in a seafood restaurant are given red prop wine to drink.

    Work schedules and process. Damon reports 75 hour work weeks on LOST, during which they have up to 5 episodes in various stages of progress at a time.

    Krista reported the staff working on one episode from 8am to 1am, and how their workdays have been a normalish 10am-7pm or so, but they're now cranking hard to adjust a string of episodes since a story idea early on was changed, having a ripple effect. This also happened last season when it was decided that Derek and Meredith should stay friends. They originally weren't going to be.

    Doug's been working seven days a week since last August.

    Casting. Carlton reported that they built Mr. Eko's character around the actor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Mr. Eko was originally going to be a real priest, but then they heard raves from their casting director. "You know who'd be perfect? That ass rapist from OZ!" Mr. Eko got a rework after that. And I'm now officially scared of the Googling that'll lead people here.

    Damon echoed this, that they wrote character to the actors. There was no script for LOST at its initial casting.

    Both Damon and Carlton admitted to a sort of "up the river" phenomenon when either spends too much time in Hawaii hanging out with the actors. "Holy crap, they're right! We're not writing enough for Sayid!" The other one will be back on the phone here in LA yelling, "Get out of there, man! Get out!"

    Early jobs. Dennis asked the panelists if, during their worst industry job they learned that things would never get better, they would've stuck with it. Most said yes.

    Damon seemed to mostly enjoy his early jobs, since they taught him how to write television, "which is very different from writing."

    Carlton talked about an international spy action show he worked on that for budgetary reasons was filmed entirely in Orlando, Florida. Um, international? Apparently they were exhorted to film in Epcot.

    Krista worked on CHARMED (and gave up a lot of money when she chose to walk away, she said), which she said devolved from being a show about female empowerment after the episode in which Alyssa Milano appeared as a mermaid, with the associated billboards all over town showing Alyssa in seashell pasties. After that, the male viewership shot up, the network started to ask repeatedly, "Can we get some skin this week?", and the show became about getting the girls naked in a San Francisco that was "mysteriously bereft of homosexuals."

    Krista also talked about one of her first experiences as a baby writer on an unnamed show, where the staff gathered around to discuss her script, some on conference call, and the showrunner opened with "So. Does anyone have anything positive to say to Krista before we begin?" Crickets. Crickets followed by an utter shredding. She joked that the goal for TV writers was to get to the top so they could do this kind of thing to other people.

    Damon described hauling last year's Emmy statuette to Mel's Diner, and loving the award's dangerous and aggressive styling. "It's like it's saying 'Fuck you!!'"

    Dennis noted that Ian looks like "Michael Bolton on a low-carb diet."

    Advice to newbie writers:

  • Ian: Read scripts, books, everything. Recommends the Writers Guild Library. Also, if you want to write comedy, be a stand-up comedian (I think this was Ian's point. Again, sketchy notes). "You'll get the unfunny beaten out of you." The other former stand-up comics on the panel agreed.
  • Cliff: Don't listen too much to people who "know everything." Write what you want to see. What you like.
  • Damon: Read bad writing. He got depressed when he read good writing...
  • Carlton: Another vote for reading, both good and bad writing. He used to read for a producer and most of the scripts he read sucked-- and those writers had jobs. Also, investigate the options that digital distribution is opening up like YouTube, viral stuff.
  • Krista: Yep, reading, also write and keep writing. Don't write one single script and treat it like a jewel. Also, she was a singing waitress for 17 years.
  • Doug: Write a lot. You'll get better.

    TV's a collaborative medium. Know how to play well with others. I forgot who said this, but everyone agreed on the point.

    The panel then took a few questions from the audience. Dennis got all snarky when a woman asked Krista how she felt about being the only woman on the panel, and to reflect on the state of women in the industry. Dennis' sarcastic sideshow to this nearly upstaged Krista's answer, but she persevered to note that a lot of women were nominated for Emmys this year but that she was the only one "self-flagellating enough" to appear on the panel.

    Krista also said that things were getting better for women in TV overall, and got out a gentle but pointed "You've been odd since 9/11" to Dennis that he didn't appear to hear in the throes of his eye-rolling and wanking gestures. Who better to comment on gender parity in television than a rich middle-aged white guy, right?

    I have no idea why Dennis reacted so strongly to a well-intended and not strident question (his behavior was directed at that, not at Krista, btw, who he seemed to like. At one point he suggested she get a talk show since her "rap" was so good). It's not like Dennis wouldn't have made some crack if things were reversed and it was just him and one other guy on a stage full of women writers. Something obscure about Paradise Island and Diana Prince, probably.

    "Thank you, Helen Reddy," Dennis smirked to the question-asker before moving on. Helen Reddy? In the age of Hilary and Xena, that's the best and most contemporary he could do?

    Last audience question was, who's one person who inspires you?

  • Carlton: Stephen King.
  • Krista: Anne Lamott. I got so excited when she said this, because I think Anne Lamott is amazing. Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books on writing, ever, full of helpful advice that's funny and genuine.
  • Doug: "A lot of neurotic Jews." Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, Mel Brooks, etc.
  • Ian: Jim Downey, SNL writer extraordinare.

    Dennis apologized for some early gag I didn't understand (or transcribe) about someone named Ballard, a cesarean section, and a whorehouse in Nevada. Anyone get that? He then thanked Signer Guy who indeed rocked, and we all decamped to the lobby for nibbles and free wine.

    I had white merlot. Cold red wine is a little odd, but not bad, especially on a hot summer night waiting for the fall TV season to start!
  • Monday, September 04, 2006

    Beta forum thread
    Like a freezing rain, cold death
    To games bloomed too soon.

    Okay, so the below isn't a haiku, but I got a curiously worded and spaced tone poem of an email upon registering for the Vanguard beta test:

    You've successfully completed registration for Vanguard Beta.

    If you are accepted for Vanguard beta, you will receive a future email
    containing a registration key
    that you can consume within this flow.

    Thank you,
    Who've they got in customer care writing these things? William Carlos Williams?

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Coming Soon to a Mailbox Near You

    Wired has an article up about how Netflix is quietly but successfully moving into film distribution. Movies they've picked up have gone on to HBO, wider DVD release, and even theatrical runs.

    Like the Miramax of old, they're advocates of the little guy, haunting festivals looking for product. Festivals too exclusive for you? There's a link on where you can submit your film.

    Most interesting, I think, is how the Netflix recommendations engine relates here. Netflix knows a tremendous amount about its subscribers, and can tell whether you might like some little flick by an unknown filmmaker, which makes their distribution play low-risk and high-reward.

    Robust affinity sorting is incredibly powerful: a good engine knows that THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY are both romantic comedies, but are fundamentally different. And which one you're likely to watch-- or buy.

    Monday, August 28, 2006


    Has it really been a year since Katrina? Of course, it's surely seemed longer, much longer, to those still dealing with the hurricane's fallout long after the rest of us have been distracted by newer and shinier tragedies.

    Watch Spike Lee's HBO documentary, WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE, if you have access. It's a searing indictment of the government's response, and an elegy to a city that may never be the same but that can still dance even while burying their dead.

    Lee managed to get interviews with an amazing number and variety of players. Nagin, Blanco, Kanye West, the doctor who told Cheney to go fuck himself while Dick posed at a photo op, scientists, historians, and most especially survivors of all stripes. As illuminated by Lee's interviews and footage from both then and now, there's plenty of blame and pain -- and resilience and resolve -- to go around.

    I learned all kinds of things I didn't know before, such as the allegations that the levees were breached by explosions on purpose, a callback to an actual event from an earlier New Orleans hurricane, where a levee was detonated in a poor neighborhood to save a wealthier one.

    I didn't fully understand the breadth and (still) lingering impact of the evacuation diaspora, or the land grab currently underway in the largely vacated worst-hit neighborhoods. That insurance companies weaselled so thoroughly to avoid paying claims to lifelong customers who had lost everything. That cash-poor Louisiana sees no money at all from the natural gas and oil industries just offshore.

    Among other things, the documentary begs the question of what might happen in another city, with another disaster of this magnitude.

    Here's one for Californians to try on for size: what will happen when the Big One hits? Will FEMA go to Pacific Heights and Beverly Hills before Bayview and Compton? And what will happen next?

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Happy Birthday, Mrs. Parker

    Raise a glass or three today for Dorothy Parker, patron saint of this blog and indeed of cocktail-fond writer broads everywhere.

    Parker wasn't all quips and martinis. She was also an activist, blacklisted by the HUAC, and a founder of the Screen Writers Guild which evolved into the WGA.

    Oscar-nominated for 1937's A STAR IS BORN, Parker, like other luminaries such as Fitzgerald and Faulker who came West to write for the movies, found in Hollywood a lucrative but weird terra incognita:

    When I dwelt in the East I had my opinion of writing for the screen. I regarded it with a sort of benevolent contempt, as one looks at the raggedy printing of a backward six-year-old. I thought it had just that much relationship to literature.

    Well, I found out, and I found out hard, and found out forever. Through the sweat and the tears I shed over my first script, I saw a great truth - one of those eternal, universal truths that serve to make you feel much worse than you did when you started. And that is that no writer, whether he writes from love or from money, can condescend to what he writes. [italics mine] What makes it harder in screenwriting is the money he gets.

    You see, it brings out the uncomfortable little thing called conscience. You aren't writing for the love of it or the art of it or whatever; you are doing a chore assigned to you by your employer and whether or not he might fire you if you did it slackly makes no matter. You've got yourself to face, and you have to live with yourself.
    Pretty contemporary take, no?

    Another quote (attributed), to see you off into your day:

    The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

    Amen, sister.

    Saturday, August 19, 2006

    STARGATE SG-1: "200"

    Gold. Gold.

    The 200th episode of STARGATE SG-1, the little Sci Fi Channel show that could (it debuted in 1997!) is a must-see for any sci fi fan.

    Regular viewers of the show will no doubt pick up on a zillion in-jokes that I missed, but there's plenty to go around as the SG writers and actors tweak their own noses when the characters "help" a screenwriter (Willie Garson, as Hollywood shnook nonpareil) with a screenplay based on his TV show based on their exploits: WORMHOLE X-TREME! Exclamation point theirs.

    Everything's fair game in the TV and movie development world, from the title sequence to act outs to swapping lead actors mid-series to having your funding slashed over a text message, but the real heart of the ep is the sci fi parodies of the show.

    We see the Stargate posse as angsty O.C. punks, Classic Trek, in a galaxy far, far away, as Thunderbirds-style puppets (!!)... My favorite bit is when alien Vala tries to get her own storyline added, but only offers glosses on other, very familiar movie and TV tales. "If you're going to rip off someone," the writer admonishes, "You're going to have to pick something a little more obscure."

    Cut to a pitch-perfect parody of a late, lamented sci fi show dear to my heart, one where Claudia Black (Vala) and Ben Browder clearly feel right at home.

    "That's better," says the writer. "I have no idea what that is."

    "200" rebroadcasts on Sci Fi on 8/25, I think, or track it down digitally. Find it. Watch it. Love it.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, But It May Be on iTunes

    When NBC announced that it would be releasing the pilot for HEROES for free on iTunes in advance of its broadcast premiere, I made a "squeeeeeeeee" noise of delight that probably could only be heard by Aquaman.

    The selfsame Aquaman whose own pilot (which wasn't picked up, unlike HEROES), gloriously, eponymously retitled from the safe 'n' boring MERCY REEF, hasn't left the iTunes top 10 TV Shows since it was posted.

    I'm also in love with NBC's other savvy, digital media ploy, to release STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP to Netflix subscribers. My copy's winging its way to me as we speak.

    I tuned in late to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA this year and have the entire third season on my iPod.

    How great is all this? TV-watching in the age of the digital holy trinity -- Netflix, iTunes, and Holy TiVo -- is a thing of beauty.

    There are interesting strategies at work with digital distribution: expand on the moneymaking potential of hit shows by making episodes available for sale after they air; promote and drive early word of mouth on shows that the networks want to be hits; and provide a revenue-generating home for those shows that didn't make the cut.

    This last one I find the most fascinating. I hope more networks follow the Aqualead and make more pilots available on iTunes or on their websites. The interest clearly is there; for one, I'd pay to see SPLIT DECISION, whose script I loved but that didn't get picked up by the CW.

    Digital distribution also works guerrilla-fashion. GLOBAL FREQUENCY was, of course, the first pilot to turn up on the internets and find popularity and press. Its owners should sell that puppy on iTunes, the perfect place for long-tail content. The pilot for NOBODY'S WATCHING, from a SCRUBS writer-producer, burned up YouTube and got bought for webisodes and script development by NBC.

    Why not make more failed pilots available online? Let those who didn't get invited to the fall lineup prom find an audience, one that doesn't need to be the multimillions required to keep a TV show afloat. Recoup a bit of development money. The world's iPods are waiting!

    Monday, July 31, 2006

    It's the End of E3 As We Know It

    ...and I feel fine.

    The game industry buzz over the weekend was all about how E3 is dead or downsized.

    Between swarms of goofball non-industry attendees, the adverse impact to the game development calendar (it's hard for some companies to make progress on the actual game early in the year if everyone's busy with teh shiney E3 demo), and dubious actual value to publishers, this may not be a bad thing.

    And now, straight from the ESA's mouth, it sounds like the rumors of an "evolved" E3 are true.

    Guess the tools trolling the West Hall for boobage dressed in skimpy game character costumes will have to go back to paying escort services for it.

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    MMOG Boom Times in the Bay Area

    Austin, home of SOE, NCSoft, and the new Bioware outpost, has long been ground zero for massively multiplayer online game development and ops, but Northern California's seen a marked increase in the genre recently.

    A quick roundup of quakeland's MMOG players:

    Perpetual's all systems go on Gods and Heroes (publishing partner SOE) and Star Trek Online, two high-profile titles, the former launching this year, I believe.

    Cryptic (an NCSoft company) is hiring for multiple new titles to be announced this year, something I'm particularly excited about since City of Heroes/City of Villains is still in rotation in my house. Cryptic nailed the satisfying player experience -- you really do feel like a superhero -- and pound for pound is still the most fun to play of the current live games as far as I'm concerned. New offerings that leverage Cryptic's strong engine and learning so far (e.g. addressing complaints about shallow gameplay) will position them to keep breathing once the new DC and Marvel MMOGs arrive to threaten their flagship games.

    Three Rings continues to innovate the casual MMO genre with the recent beta launch of Bang! Howdy and enhancements to Puzzle Pirates. These guys are figuring out leading-edge aspects of MMOG design, including creating for the mass market player and monetizing her through cash-backed virtual currency. Their numbers for the latter are scary good. Expect to see more of these kinds of games and less of the men in tights genres as more companies hop on the casual gamer clue train. and Second Life both operate on the fringes of MMOGs, being virtual worlds focused on creation and socialization rather than orc-bashing, but both are thriving.'s made some key hires recently, and SL is in the virtual world news practically every week with some new buzzworthy milestone. Virtual currency and user-generated content are at the heart of both games, it's worth noting.

    Even Electronic Arts is in the mix again. The industry behemoth is looking to improve its reputation as the Game Company Where MMOGs Go to Die with an overhaul of Sims Online, as well as an unannounced second game that perhaps a little too excitably is being called by one staffer "the next Spore." Given that Spore hasn't launched yet, I'm not sure what this means. And, Ultima Online is still up and running, lo these many years later.

    The landscape of MMOG development in the area was very different even only a couple of years ago. Nice to see the rise of virtual worlds in the Valley again!

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    Sneak Peek of STUDIO 60 and KIDNAPPED for Netflixers

    NBC's partnering with Netflix to offer the full premiere episodes of two of its biggest new series, six weeks before the shows air. I've read the pilots, but am eager to see how the execution pans out.

    Fellini's 8 1/2 MILE

    Maybe you've already seen this, but if the interwebs have not yet passed it your way:

    For the seventeen of us who've seen both movies, this actually works pretty well.

    (Thanks, Dave K., for the tip!)

    Friday, July 14, 2006

    POD People

    A few weeks ago I went to a WGA event which featured small group chats with producers and executives at companies with PODs (production overall deals).

    A very interesting evening, not just because there was free wine and chocolate-covered strawberries. But those helped. Those always help.

    The gathering involved the attendees, about 100 of us, grouped into sets of ten and arranged in, well, pods throughout a bunch of multipurpose rooms. Hee! I didn't know buildings that weren't junior high schools even had those!

    Every ten minutes or so, a new guest rotated over to our group from the previous group to give a rundown of his or her company and deal and be peppered with questions.

    Basically it was speed-dating with development execs.

    This was emphatically NOT a pitch festival, though. One of the things I've found most sobering about being involved with the WGA as an associate member (through the New Media Caucus) is that the Guild's always reminding members of the pitch policy when attending events.

    Which is, don't. Don't pitch, don't buttonhole a guest, and don't lie down in front of her departing car brandishing a script.

    The fact that the WGA feels the need to print this in an event program and mention it explicitly at the evening's start depresses me. I mean, yeah... as with most creative unions (say, Equity), some large percentage of the WGA membership is underemployed or outright unemployed, but still. You'd think professionals would know better.

    But everyone as far as I could tell was very well behaved this night. The 11 guests, of which we saw 9, represented a range of companies, from those hooked up with name talent to those behind powerhouse shows like GREY'S ANATOMY, 24, and PRISON BREAK. All were amazingly nice, grounded people, gracious in their answers and helpful in their advice.

    And advice is what we all wanted. This was definitely an employment access shindig, after all, and even though no one outright pitched (in my group at least), the clear subtext behind most questions was "What should I write so I can sell my show to or be hired by you guys?" The evening was probably of most use to writers looking to pitch original shows, but there was plenty to make note of even if you weren't yet hungering for a Created By credit.

    Moderators in each group kept things moving, and kicked off each new guest's arrival with a round of introductions from the group. This started feeling silly after the fourth or fifth time, as we rattled off our spiels, but really pointed up the diversity of backgrounds and experience of those looking to break into TV.

    In my group there was a guy with decades in news, a documentarian, feature writers, writers repped by important agencies who wanted to sell a pilot, and a TV writer with a load of credits in the 90's who had taken a break and was trying to get back in.

    This is the competition for TV jobs, remember. Also, during the hors d'oeuvres I ran into a couple of comedy writers who had been on big but cancelled shows and now, thanks to the comedy drought, are scrambling for jobs.

    But they're not scrambling. They're writing one-hour drama specs and can bring the funny. Ignore at your peril.

    A few points from the night that I thought were interesting:

  • With one exception, every exec said they really wanted to read original material as a sample, spec pilots especially. A few people also mentioned short stories and plays.

  • DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and THE SOPRANOS are played out as specs. Done. Sleeping with Luca Brasi. Not a surprise to those who monitor the suggestion lists on various blogs or who have good intel from their agents, but this was hard confirmation from folks who read specs all day. Those two shows were mentioned by every exec who said they were tired of episodics as samples. GREY'S got a couple mentions too.

  • The development world is desperate for good comedy pilots.

  • Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer pwn procedurals. No company was that interested in developing a procedural because these two guys -- mentioned as a pair in this context by every single guest to our group -- have the genre locked up tight.

  • If you want to pitch/write a spec procedural, make it quirky and character-driven. HOUSE was the example everyone mentioned.

  • My corollary: Don't try to clone HOUSE. Everyone is.

  • Use your spec pilots to push the envelope. Be more diverse than network TV currently is. Go farther in the script than an aired show might do. Better to have someone rein you in than come off thinking that you can't go there.

  • Get a good agent. I mean, duh, but yes.

  • Everyone (these folks at least) is looking for colorful and off-center, no matter what the genre. One woman mentioned vampire lawyers but I think she was kidding. Maybe.

    Whew! Inspired yet? Go write that pilot! Or that spec that isn't about Bree or Tony! I mean it, go. It's going to be too hot this weekend to do much else and you already saw PIRATES. Scoot.

    The POD event clearly was no mean feat to pull off, and the folks behind it are to be commended. Hats off to the Guild's Committee of Black Writers and Committee of Women Writers. Here's hoping they do it again.
  • Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Emmy Time

    The noms are out, with some surprising omissions including sophomore dramas LOST and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Shawna's got a nice recap and brief analysis over at Shouting into the Wind.

    Here's an excerpt of the nominations list:

    "Grey's Anatomy," ABC
    "House," Fox
    "The Sopranos," HBO
    "24," Fox
    "The West Wing," NBC

    "Arrested Development," Fox
    "Curb Your Enthusiasm," HBO
    "The Office," NBC
    "Scrubs," NBC
    "Two and a Half Men," CBS

    "Arrested Development: Development Arrested," Fox
    "Entourage: Exodus," HBO
    "Extras: Kate Winslet," HBO
    "My Name Is Earl: Pilot," NBC
    "The Office: Christmas Party," NBC

    "Grey's Anatomy: It's the End of the World, as We Know It (Part 1 & Part 2)," ABC
    "Grey's Anatomy: Into You Like a Train," ABC
    "Lost: The 23rd Psalm," ABC
    "Six Feet Under: Everyone's Waiting," HBO
    "The Sopranos: Members Only," HBO

    Denis Leary, "Rescue Me," FX Network
    Peter Krause, "Six Feet Under," HBO
    Christopher Meloni, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," NBC
    Kiefer Sutherland, "24," Fox
    Martin Sheen, "The West Wing," NBC

    Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer," TNT
    Geena Davis, "Commander in Chief," ABC
    Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," NBC
    Frances Conroy, "Six Feet Under," HBO
    Allison Janney, "The West Wing," NBC

    Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," HBO
    Kevin James, "The King of Queens," CBS
    Tony Shalhoub, "Monk," USA
    Steve Carell, "The Office," NBC
    Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men," CBS

    Lisa Kudrow, "The Comeback," HBO
    Jane Kaczmarek, "Malcolm in the Middle," Fox
    Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "The New Adventures of Old Christine," CBS
    Stockard Channing, "Out of Practice," CBS
    Debra Messing, "Will & Grace," NBC

    Friday, June 30, 2006

    Superhero Video Games and Tentpole Movies We Will Be Spared

    Cringe before The Tumbler! Boggle at Matter-Eater Lad! Salivate over King Kandy (and his Licorice Lariat)!

    These losers join fellow third-string heroes and villains The Fantastic Fireworks Master, Stiltman (precariously balanced but lethal, apparently), and my favorite, The Hoopster, the Villain with 1000 Hoops, over at Stupor Powers.

    Also making guest appearances in lameness are heroes we know and love, including Batman attempting to block bullets with his head and Supes himself, who among his lesser-known abilities has super-weaving, super-ventriloquism, and super-landscaping.

    Super. Landscaping.

    Check out Superdickery's other image galleries for more delights, including damning proof of Superman acting contrary to his boy scout PR.

    The pages load pretty slow thanks to the graphics, but are so so worth it. Be sure to read the commentary.

    In other news, I went to a fascinating WGA event last night, sort of speed-dating with TV development execs (but emphatically NOT a pitch festival). I'll write more on it soon, but will leave you with a brief tease that original material, especially spec pilots, are confirmed to be hot samples now. Fun stuff!

    Have a great weekend! I'm off with a few folks from the scribosphere to do some super-moviegoing (to see guess who), and maybe will indulge in a little super-napping and super-martini-imbibing. And yes, I'll be writing. You too, 'kay?

    Edit: Not to quell any celebration, but Alex over at Complications Ensue posted a serious and thoughtful reminder on what this weekend's about. No foolin'. Worth a bit of thought between beers.

    Monday, June 26, 2006

    Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel at the Writers Guild Foundation

    The final installment of this year's WGF's Spring Storytellers series featured Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, longtime writing partners with something like 18 produced scripts to their credit, among them SPLASH, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, NIGHT SHIFT, and FEVER PITCH.

    A congenial pair, funny as you might imagine, with a wealth of experience, they made for another inspiring night at the WGF. My random notes:

    As an introductory remark, Ganz made the point that he and Mandel are writers. Not aspiring directors or producers. Writing's what they've always and only wanted to do, and it's a fine occupation for an adult (YMMV with friends and loved ones!).

    The other introductory point they made was a nod toward the collaborative nature of making movies, and that the success or failure of their films was not theirs alone but the product of many individuals.

    While Mandel always wanted to write movies, both got their start in TV. The lessons of writing for TV and how those helped them in features turned into a common thread throughout the evening's discussion. Writing for shows, they learned "disposability" (to divorce yourself from the material), "fear" (how and how not to pitch), and the "fine line between flexibility and hackiness." A TV mentor told them, "Love nothing, boys," meaning to not ever get too precious about your own words.

    These lessons have served them well, both in getting jobs and executing on them. They've never really had a disagreement. Their process is to throw out ideas not like "I GOT IT!", shouted while leaping across the table, but more like "What if..." or "This isn't it, but..." or "Is this anything...?"

    They write about a script and a half a year these days, and admitted to have cut way back from their previous productivity. Check out that resume -- sheesh, they've earned it, in more ways than one.

    They don't write on spec. Ideas are brought to them. They feed off the shared energy and enthusiasm of ideas that originate elsewhere: "cowardice," joked Mandel, is why they don't generate original scripts that have only themselves as champions.

    They start each day by reading the paper and woolgathering for a bit, then review the previous day's pages, which have been typed by their assistant from their original longhand draft. Then come the new pages.

    Character is king with Ganz and Mandel. They start every project by finding the character through whose eyes the story will be told.

    It's the inability to "go deep" on character, they said, that was behind the failure of many hotshot 1980's Saturday Night Live writers to transition to movies. These folks were used to writing characters superficially, focusing on situation, as you might expect from sketch writers.

    The leads in their movies are the writers themselves, even in a movie where that seems like a stretch, say, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN which is about sisters from Oregon playing baseball during WWII. But the trip to Chicago the girls take, to pursue their dream-- that's Ganz and Mandel, moving to Hollywood from New York to chase (and ultimately catch) their own dreams of being writers.

    They're open to serendipity (again being flexible without being hacky), citing the example of a scene from PARENTHOOD that was jotted as notes on the way to the set one morning after Ron Howard identified a missing moment. The actors, Jason Robards and Tom Hulce, riffed off those notes and the scene was filmed, eventually to become a fan favorite of the film.

    Arthur Miller had a similar scene in DEATH OF A SALESMAN, they grinned, but theirs "was funnier."

    They used to outline but now don't. Personally, I wouldn't take this (or Milch's non-outlining either, to reference another recent WGF speaker) as a blank check to not outline yourself. These are masters who've no doubt internalized structure to the point that they probably don't need an explicit roadmap.

    They've never sought arbitration on their numerous "funny for money" script doctor jobs.

    And this business, it is a business. They came off as consummate, lifelong professionals for whom writing is a joy but also a job.

    One aspect of their success, they surmised, was their ability to feel the audience, to shift between thinking about a script internally (as writer) and externally (as watcher).

    Going back to their TV roots, Jack Klugman gave Ganz his first boot camp in writing full characters, when he roared "What do I want?!" after reading a script.

    This is the chief failing of newer writers, they said, who look at a script and think, "I need to get my guy into that tank of eels," not "Why does my guy want to go into the tank of eels?"

    Ganz's definitive "good character" is Jack Lemmon from THE APARTMENT, because he's complicated. Unlikable in many ways but never unsympathetic.

    They pride themselves on being "the best-behaved writers in show business" and routinely are not only on set but in the editing room. Where, they were quick to say, they are the most merciless of anyone on the movie, cutting what doesn't play.

    Free rewrites. They do them. Ganz acknowledged that this is a hot button issue, but given the situations they've been in and the people they've worked with -- people they trust, respect, and like -- they do free rewrites.

    On taking notes. Garry Marshall advised them to listen to the solution, not the problem. Find what's behind the note -- a note which may in itself be a terrible idea -- and fix that.

    Michael Keaton was almost fired off NIGHT SHIFT by the studio. "Too weird." Ron Howard went to bat for him.

    They wrote Jon Lovitz' role in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN specifically for him, to capture that 1930's character-actor look and feel, and as a favor to Penny Marshall to get him out of living in her house.

    Wrote BL's moisies for him. (WTF? That's what my scribble looks like to me but I have no idea what it means now. Anyone in my writing classes or groups can testify how appalling my handwriting is.)

    Wait, I got it. They wrote Billy Crystal's roles mostly for him. Meaning, they had him explicitly in mind when creating those roles. No moisies.

    CITY SLICKERS was written as a sort of comedic murder mystery. They knew they needed to end up with the three guys taking the cattle in on their own, so they had to figure out how to "bump off" the other characters to leave our heroes alone on the cattle drive.

    Personal interjection from me. What is wrong with the people who ask questions at these things that they can't remember, even after it's repeated multiple times, to wait for the frakking mic to ask the damn question? You may think you're loud but a) you're not and 2) you're not loud enough to make it onto the recording, Einstein. Lordy.

    Parting advice for writers: "Be interesting quickly." The moderator, Ed Solomon (MEN IN BLACK), no slouch in the comedic writing department his own self, followed up with an encouragement to make sure the audience (or reader) feels that they're in good hands from the very start.

    Lots of good checks here for scripts in progress: are you interesting early? Is the audience with you, supported, or stranded and confused by page 10? Does the action arise from character? Or are you just maneuvering your guy into that tank of eels?

    Gracious, articulate, talented guys. And I need to load up my Netflix queue now with their movies that I need to see again (SPLASH) or never saw (NIGHT SHIFT).

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Electronic Arts Buys Mythic

    Pretty big news item for the game industry's traditionally slow summer months: EA went shopping for a studio full o' successful MMORPG goodness. Key management is staying aboard.

    Cynics may point to the acquired-and-dismantled notches on EA's bedpost -- Kesmai, Westwood, Origin -- but a lot of the news and PR coming out of gaming's 800 lb. gorilla points toward new strategies and policies. Innovation, new IP, and smaller, more agile teams leading feature development are just a few.

    Mythic knows what they're doing. Here's hoping EA will just, y'know, let them do it.

    THQ was in the press a bit ago stating that it's "misguided" to build an MMO to compete with World of Warcraft. I agree that coming out now with a fantasy MMO sans killer, marquee IP is a dicey proposition at best (if I was working on Vanguard, I'd have my resume in good shape), but for Lord British's sake, do we need more fantasy MMOs?

    Other genres and themes are woefully underrepresented, as are completely different takes on virtual worlds. Habbo Hotel is a rampaging success. Second Life is growing like gangbusters. Maple Story and other "lite" MMOs with business models beyond the mass market-offputting $15/month money suck are snagging customers by the bushel.

    I also agree with Damion at Zen of Design that progress is the bete noire of all MMOs, and who's to say WoW will still be teh shiney by the time it takes a next-gen MMO to come out?

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    The TV Season is Dead, Long Live the TV Season

    In days gone by, summer was the time for reruns. Movies. Baseball. Maybe even going outside. TV returned in the fall with cool weather and back-to-school shopping.

    Now, all kinds of TV debuts in the sunny months! What's that about? No sooner have we cleared out the TiVo of season finales than new shows come streaming in!

    Okay, I kind of love it, especially when some of the shows are top shelf offerings such as DEADWOOD, ENTOURAGE, and RESCUE ME. I'm also watching THE CLOSER to balance out the guy-itude and get my procedural fix.

    And you? What's keeping you indoors these balmy summer nights?

    Friday, June 16, 2006

    Network Is Not Just a Paddy Chayefsky Film

    BooM at Wannabetvwriter describes the care and feeding of industry relationships, something that may not come easy to introverted writerly types.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006


    Okay, I love that they get homes out of this, but really. This must be, like, indicator #26 that the End Time is near.

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Pod People

    Finally, I have a miniature device with which to consume audio while mobile!

    Stop yawning. This is news for a gadget late adopter like myself. My MP3 player is replacing a Panasonic walkman thingie. Cassette tapes. Not pretty.

    In addition to music, there some great podcasts out there, and now that I have my new toy, I can really take advantage. Yeah, yeah, I know you don't need a mobile player for these, but sitting at my computer just listening to something feels weird, and I can't multitask when intelligible voices are involved (I listen to instrumental music while writing for the same reason).

    So, all this may be ancient news to those who didn't carry around a 5-year-old bricklike Nokia phone until finally shamed into upgrading, but here are some writing-related podcasts worth checking out.

  • Creative Screenwriting Q&A Series - Creative Screenwriting magazine arranges some fun screenings, and these podcasts are recordings of the Q&A sessions with the movies' writers. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (MI:III, THE ISLAND, ALIAS) share some fascinating insights on the MI:III podcast, including how writing for TV prepared them for features and how they went from being assistants on HERCULES to spitballing dialogue with Tom Cruise in his trailer.

    They also describe an interesting outlining method, one J.J. Abrams uses, in which action is jotted down in a circle, the face of a conceptual clock that represents an hour of screen time. 6 o'clock is 30 minutes in, 12 is one hour, etc. It apparently is an effective visual way of seeing how the story unspools. Something to try out.

  • Martini Shot - Rob Long's a TV vet with a whole mess o' credits, and Martini Shot is his weekly commentary that appears simultaneously on KCRW (for LA area types) and online. Funny, sometimes snarky, occasionally moving peeks behind the Hollywood writer curtain.

  • Sam and Jim Go to Hollywood - I love these guys. Sam and Jim started off as restauranteurs in Minneapolis, and moved their lives and families out here to be TV writers. A writing team, they've sold a pilot and several feature scripts, taken dozens of meetings, and use this podcast to document their writerly euphoria and heartbreak as it unfolds.

  • Battlestar Galactica Writers' Meeting - Holy cats, this is gold. Ever wonder what it's like to be a fly on the wall (or a Diet Coke on the table) in a real writers' room? How about the writers' room for one of the best TV shows out there? Load up this series and bask. Fun extra tidbits include Ronald D. Moore narrating his way around the Universal lot (he confesses to sneaking in the back entrance to the theme park, to ride Jurassic Park as a break).
  • Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    More on Milch

    Shawn's got his recap up.

    He's spot on about the food, btw. Little cups of guac and chips, and some kind of meat taquito things that got picked up as soon as they were put down, so I never knew exactly what they were.

    Of course, this being a gathering of mostly writers, the line was longer at the bar...

    Wednesday, May 31, 2006

    David Milch at the Writers Guild Foundation

    Last week David Milch spoke as part of the Writers Guild Foundation's Spring Storytellers series. A lively evening with a fascinating guy.

    Shawn over at Agents Are Evil said he'd have a recap up soon, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, here are my random notes.

    Process was the big initial topic. Milch says he writes for a certain number of hours per day, seven days a week. When pressed for the number, he guessed four.

    He doesn't think about writing when he's not writing. He's not the guy jotting stuff down in the car, or having ideas while shaving. He noted that these thoughts are not true to his characters -- the ego suppression that happens while in the act of writing is not there when not writing, and drags down the characters' true voices.

    Milch doesn't outline or do other conventional texty script preparations in advance of writing. He does massive amounts of research, from books to site visits to subject matter expert interviews. He wrote and published a sourced paper on the language of DEADWOOD, something I'd love to chase down and read.

    The writing takes as long as it takes. Scenes often can be written or revised while in rehearsal or on set.

    Of course, all this makes network programmers antsy. Even HBO, which Milch notes likes you to have your entire season in the can before you go to air.

    He had a great quote about this which I'm going to butcher due to not transcribing it exactly, but it went something like: when the tao is gone, then talk of good and evil. Basically, his point was that effective storytelling is the essence. The airwaves are full of ineffective storytelling. In the absence of effective storytelling, networks make you stick to schedules.

    Milch is amazingly present-focused -- the way he writes is testament to that. This trait also came up when he spoke about DEADWOOD, now heading into what's probably its final season (he was a little coy on the definites). He said that he and the others behind the show are doing all they can to make the show the best it can be, relishing that challenge and opportunity, and not thinking ahead to The End and aspects out of their control.

    He suggested to the audience that we watch the show in the same vein, appreciating it in the moment and not looking ahead to when there are no more episodes.

    Episode 9 is in post now, he said in passing.

    Extremely articulate and lettered guy. Unpacked all kinds of references and allusions. Quoted from The Great Gatsby.

    He won the prestigious Humanitas Prize. Twice. And bought a racehorse with the prize money. Twice.

    Milch has survived multiple 12-step programs worth of demons: drugs, booze, depression, OCD. In college he wrote the same twelve pages of a novel by hand every day. All that is part of why he doesn't think about writing when he's not writing.

    He doesn't type and doesn't know how to a use a computer, probably all the better since keyboard+mouse=bad bad OCD possibilities. Charmingly, he called the internet the "mainframe reboot" a few times. He also called his car keychain clicker a reboot.

    Writing is not a solitary experience for him. He dictates to someone on a computer, with the words appearing projected on a screen (apparently the extras to the DEADWOOD DVDs show this -- must check that out). Also in the room are the other writers, students, friends.

    Working with him must be a unique experience, and not just because in his more unhinged days he used to get into epic battles with his boss, including urinating on the boss's typewriter (to be fair, Milch said, the boss was not always at the typewriter at the time) and hurling the contents of the office out the window. The ST. ELSEWHERE staff, one floor below, were often distracted by random items plummeting past.

    Milch once sold a novel to five different publishers.

    He spun a really interesting thread around the racehorse Barbaro and that horrible break, using it to describe eliciting an authentic experience in an audience. With Barbaro, we the public had this infantile, kind of selfish fantasy about this horse winning it all.

    Then the horse got hurt, and there was this repositioning of how we felt about it. We hoped the horse would be all right. Then, we learned that he might not be all right, but might in fact die -- the extreme ways that horses have been bred (for us) means poor circulation and frequent inability to recover from breaks. Then Barbaro was operated on, and was successful, and it seems like he will recover although not to be the champion he was.

    Through this, Milch said, we the audience progressed from something experiencing something cliche to something genuine. I'm not capturing the detail fully, but trust me, it was an effective point.

    His favorite $20,000 Pyramid category is Things That Go Inside Other Things (revealed when he knocked over a bottle of water).

    He has a bad back and needs a lumbar support pillow for these events.

    Director's chairs are not well-suited to lumbar support pillows.

    In the Q and A, a guy referenced a lecture series Milch gave. Milch said it was available on the reboot, but after a quick search I've only been able to find a reference to it, not the DVD itself: it's called The Writer's Spirit: An Approach to Storytelling. Anyone know where it might be available?

    He talked several times about the illusion of separateness that he -- and all of us -- experience, and the necessity of getting past this false isolation. We're so connected to the lives around us.

    I see this coming out in how he lectures frequently and believes in teaching. I was also impressed at how gracious he was to everyone in the Q and A. Milch can no doubt be a tough sonofabitch (he ribbed the moderator, Paul Brownfield from the LA Times, on a few occasions), but he was warm and attentive to all who asked him questions.

    Definitely worth going to hear him speak if you can. If just to hear the story that starts with him passed out in a Cuernavaca jail, missing the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and ends with him running down a New Haven street with a shotgun, blasting at cop cars...

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    Medium Well

    I have a post about season finales in general percolating (I'm waiting for this week's final batch, particularly LOST) but can I just say now how much I liked last night's finale of MEDIUM?

    It was an episode that was sort of an uber version of the norm, different and heightened, but that didn't have anyone act crazily out of character or undergo nutty stunt plotting.

    Joe and Allison. Find me a more authentic depiction of a couple on TV these days. Their wonderful dynamic, spiky, touching, and sexy, lies at the heart of this show, and that took center stage here.

    MEDIUM is quietly popular, not particularly fashionable for some reason, though the writing is first-rate -- a story editor friend on another show reports that no one wants to read MEDIUM specs.

    I'm often amazed at how well it feeds both my sentimental and morbid streaks. COLD CASE, when it's clicking, does this too. I can pretty much be counted on to cry during every. Single. Closing. Montage.

    And, yeah, the Dixie Chicks song was product placement, but it worked. Humming it now, in fact.

    "How long do you wanna be loved? Is forever enough? Is forever enough?"


    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    Daytime in the Nighttime

    My UCLA TV writing class had a guest last night: John Loprieno, best know for starring as Cord Roberts on "One Life to Live." John's now a scriptwriter on the show, and talked to us about writing for daytime television, which is a whole different satchel of eels than writing for primetime.

    The show's head writer devises the overall direction and arcs, which is then hashed out into episode breakdowns by the breakdown writers. Those documents, basically detailed beat sheets, then get handed off to the scriptwriters like John.

    Every Monday the scriptwriters get their assignments, and they have until the following Monday to write the script, 85 pages. That's impressive right there, sheesh! 85 pages a week at minimum, more if the staff is trying to bank for the holidays. No revisions outside that week. The draft you hand in is what they shoot. The writers work one month ahead of air, and the show shoots two weeks ahead of air.

    The writers that work quickly then have time to pursue other projects (John teaches and writes screenplays), and they live all over the country, another key difference from primetime. By John's account, it's a machine, but a great gig, the well-kept secret of professional screenwriting.

    John had all kinds of stories about what episodes were hard to write (big party scenes), how happy the young studly actors are to have a guy writing dialogue they would actually say, and the challenge of dramatically getting characters from literal or emotional point A to B when the outline has been written by someone else, sometimes with huge or insufficient ground to cover.

    You can't mess with the tags (act outs/act breaks in primetime parlance), likewise anything in bold. Stuff in bold comes from The Network. Ah, so network execs are a universal pain, whatever time of day you're writing for...

    I'm intrigued to check out the format of the outlines and scripts, since daytime script layout is again something wholly different from primetime TV or film, utilizing the two-column format folks may've seen in other media (some computer game scripts use two-column).

    Really interesting peek into a different sphere of writing.

    And I resisted the entire time from squealing, "OMG, it's CORD ROBERTS!" I didn't even ask him what they thought when they switched Tinas. Discipline, people. It's all about discipline.

    Sunday, May 14, 2006

    E3 Wrap Show

    No risk of E3 going unblogged by all comers, so do check those out if you're seeking in-depth coverage. If you're looking for drive-by impressions, here are some random thoughts from my lone day roaming the floor.

    I'm not a big swag-hunter, so undoubtedly there was cool stuff that folks were giving out that I missed. But the cleverest bit of swag I did see (and snag) was Microsoft Casual Games' "Serious Gamer's Disguise Kit," which contains an eyepatch and stick-on mustache for the Halo player in your life afraid to be caught playing Hexic.

    Webzen polluted the show floor with blinky W necklaces. No way to wear one of those and not look like a knob.

    Btw, I used to work on military simulation games and one year went to I/ITSEC, the simulation industry's national conference. It's like E3 but with real guns. Seriously, it was out of control. There was not one but several full-size HMMWV simulators, cockpits on gimbals, two-story MOUT installations.

    The blinky items were the showstealer swag there too. Even if you're a buff military guy, in your pixelly desert camos and high and tight, blinky swag still makes you look like a knob.

    And there are no booth babes at I/ITSEC. Anyone staffing a booth there could kill you with a cashew.

    But I digress.

    Webzen also gave out inflatable boogie boards, which people inexplicably pounced on. They then had to lug the thing around the rest of the day. If there's one thing that makes you look more like a tool than a blinky necklace, it's a flaccid plastic promotional boogie board strapped to your back.

    I didn't have time to wait in line for anything, so I didn't see most of the prestige stuff that was hidden behind closed doors (sorry, Shawna, that means I missed Turok). I saw Will Wright demo Spore live at GDC last year, and EA already has my money for that title. Ship it!

    I was curious about the Wii (who isn't?) but the line was beyond the pale. I was annoyed that they didn't even have anything about it that you could see without waiting in line like a (say it with me) knob, but I'm sure it's all out on the internets now.

    Sony, by contrast, had loads of demo stations of the PS3, whose graphics are incredible. Really, HD is just mindblowing.

    The PS3 games themselves, not so much with the blowing of minds.

    Yeah, they all featured astonishing graphics, but we've seen all those games before. This was me, walking through the rows of PS3s and their 4-deep queues:

    "Huh, a racing game."

    "Huh, a WWII shooter."

    "Huh, a fighting game."

    "Huh-- OOH! Is that Okami over there on the PS2 aisle?!"

    Okami is one of the few games I'm definitely going to play when it comes out. The gameplay promises to be inventive and intuitive, and the watercolor, calligraphic art shows what you can do with an "old gen" console if you're willing to *gasp* innovate.

    Kentia Hall smells like ham.

    A centerpiece of the Disney booth was the Pirates of the Caribbean section, which displayed a bunch of costumes and props from the second movie. Nifty.

    I got a demo of the new PotC Online game, which is an MMO set in the world of the second movie. It uses the Toontown Online engine. The engine was designed for lower-end machines (smart), which works for cartoony shapes and basic textures, but completely fails to deliver the gritty, spooky, piratey goodness of the PotC movies.

    PotC Online's stripped-down MMO play might work for mass market audiences for whom WoW is still too much, but the game looks flat and cheery and not at all a place where Jack Sparrow gets slapped by whores. Still, I signed up for the beta -- Toontown Online did a lot of interesting things well, and I'm curious about what lessons get applied here.

    E3 attracts more and more of a marquee crowd these days, but my day was pretty light on the celebrity spotting. Admittedly I wasn't looking very hard. Apparently Paris Hilton was there and mangled the name of her own game, which is an easy laugh, but I'm sure the game's name changed a bunch of times in development. Dolphin, Gamecube? Revolution, Wii, anyone?

    I did see Stan Lee, albeit at a distance. The crowd for Adam West (Family Guy game) was insane.

    Oh, and I saw Michael Rooker. Homeboy was pacing around the Turbine booth. Is Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer more of a D&D Online man, or is Lord of the Rings Online more his style?

    LOTRO actually looks pretty tight. Aion, a new addition to NCSoft's stable, also looks interesting, beautifully realized if not breaking a whole lot of new ground play-wise.

    I spent most of my time around the online games, and was surprised at all the MMOs still trying to make a go of it. Sony Online had their own booth apart from the mega Sony mothership, with staffers desperately trying to interest passersby in EverQuest and Planetside. Not too many takers. Gods and Heroes might get an audience with its mythology meets Gladiator theme.

    Ok, so you're Vanguard. You're a fantasy MMO looking down the all-enveloping maw of World of Warcraft. You gotta innovate to get some market share. What do you do? *Dennis Hopper voice* What. Do. You. Do?

    I literally asked this of the booth guy (not in the Dennis Hopper voice), and he said that they'll let you have a mount by level 10. And that diplomacy with NPCs is one key new development of the game.

    Yes, in Vanguard you'll have missions where you argue with a dock foreman NPC to get him to fire the dockworker NPCs. When you're not killing rats or their equivalent.

    And, unfortunately, what I could see of Vanguard's visuals were subpar and the game framerate was chunking along on the Sigil booth's demo computers. Worse, I was told that the demoer had turned off a bunch of settings.

    Here's hoping they can tune things up for their launch. The world is not a friendly place right now for elves in tights games without blockbuster IP or clever gameplay evolution or a new biz model.

    I swear, going to E3 is like prepping for a hike. Bring a backpack and a bottle of water. Wear comfy shoes and dress in layers. Bring energy bars if you don't want to wait in a line 20 people deep for $7 nachos. I needed a nap at the end of the day.

    And I missed out on a free massage! Next year...

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    FE3d Me, Seymour

    E3 is here. Hide the children.

    For the gaming news junkie, e3buzz can't be beat. It aggregates feeds from twenty-two (!) sources all in one page, with a separate recent headlines section. No pics, no video, just mainlined RSS. Ride it, gamer monkeys.

    I'm going to be at E3 on Thursday, and the prospect fills me with equal parts happy anticipation and crankiness.

    New games, new consoles, outrageous booth displays, random connections with friends from the biz = cool.

    Struggling through a noisy, hot mosh pit of a convention floor swarming with swag-hungry, ill-mannered fanbois who somehow got a ticket even though they aren't in the industry and gape at booth girls like they've never seen Real Live Wimmins before = teh proverbial suxx0rz.

    Wish me luck!

    Wednesday, May 03, 2006

    Them(e)'s the Breaks

    I don't know about other writers of TV specs, but my enjoyment of watching the tube is tempered by a vague undercurrent of fear that a show I've spec'd will hit some story beat that I have in my own script.

    That vague fear became a specific "Aw, crap" moment this week, as I saw on TV a story that's a ringer for one in a new spec outline I have in the works for that show. The story was similar enough in the broad strokes and even some eerie details that I don't think I can use mine in the spec, at least not in its current form.

    I felt an oh so brief warm fuzzy for thinking in alignment with the show's writers, but that drowned in a cold bucket o' reality. I now have an outline with a hole in it.

    So, what to do? It's one thing to murder your darlings, and another to have someone else suffocate them with a drycleaning bag.

    Back to the theme!

    The script's theme generated this particular story, and should be robust enough to spin out more. I hope.

    Not every show on TV has themes, overtly stated or otherwise, but I find that the most compelling ones do. Those shows tend to convey a sense of larger meaning or human experience, beyond being only a series of events enacted by characters.

    And, theme's a great safety net. If a scene won't play right, or your B story fails to click, check if it carries out the premise.

    By falling in love with your theme rather than specific plot elements, spec writers faced with the moving target that is live TV may avoid having to off their true darlings and instead just have to maim those somewhat adorables.

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Bad Places for Games

  • Operating rooms. Your surgeon's placed steel letters in your duodenum! Get an X-ray and unscramble the name of the life-saving prescription you need!

  • During an IRS audit. Two of the forms you've filled out are bogus, the third is real. You have ten questions to choose which before you're assessed bowel-shuddering damages and back payments!

  • The justice system. That waggish fanboy judge has hidden his name and a code in his ruling!

    Just because you're a professional doesn't mean you need to act professional. Apparently. Ahem.
  • Future Historic Blunders in Marketing, Console Edition

    The Nintendo Revolution has been renamed the Nintendo Wii.

    Pronounced "we." Or, when translated into accountantese, "what drugs did they force-feed the focus group that approved this?"

    Wii. Wii?

    What the fiick?

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    Life Imitates GREY'S ANATOMY

    No cute dedicated wife in red for this Hellraiser wannabe. He was high on meth when he attempted suicide. Yeah, sounds about right.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    The Slow Burn

    Sir Bruce has updated his MMOGChart with subscriber data through the end of 2005. Getting accurate numbers for these games is notoriously difficult, not leastly because different games/companies have different definitions of what exactly a subscriber or player is.

    But one thing has been common to MMOG numbers for a long time: a game's biggest spike comes right after launch and tends to plateau or dip afterward, spiking again when a major expansion is released.

    World of Warcraft is throwing off the curve in all kinds of ways, but a subtler revolution to this conventional wisdom may be unfolding with Second Life.

    This anything-goes, DIY virtual world launched in 2003 and after a year had only about 10,000 users. Now, they're claiming 170,000 users and 20% growth a month.

    Again, Second Life's definition of a user may include those who've created free accounts rather than subscribing, but with the real-currency-for-Linden-dollars market, that doesn't mean that those apparent freeloaders aren't paying customers.

    The world (it's not really a game) has the benefit of a very engaged staff, regulars at industry conferences and events and on blogs, and much PR.

    Not all of this PR is positive: folks are no doubt checking out Second Life for salacious reasons, following up on juicy press about virtual call girls and players' using custom avatars to role-play age-taboo fantasies.

    Regardless, Second Life's healthy player base hasn't been the meteoric rise of some heavily-hyped MMOG, but has grown over time and shows no sign of slowing. Is this a sign of things to come for timelines to success for these games?

    Edit: Puzzle Pirates is another one of these slow burn MMOGs. It's been out a few years and is steadily growing, faster now that they've launched an experimental and successful new business model. Both companies, Linden Labs for SL and Three Rings for PP, are lean organizations, privately held, and target the larger and more casual markets outside the typical MMOG hardcore. Maybe those elements are part of the slow burn recipe.

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    I Heart the LOST Prop People

    Risotto or no, the Dharma Initiative drop-shipped some tweaked food. And I'm not even counting the two-gallon drums of ranch dressing.

    Last week, Sawyer's Faux-reos had "FULLY HYDROGENATED" blaring across the label.

    This week: Dharmalars! How great is that!

    I'm picturing Mallomars, but more, y'know, inexplicable and sinister with references to Ambrose Bierce.

    Spoofs and Synapses

    Scribosphere made man Craig Mazin discusses comedy and neurosurgery.

    Does this make him the McDreamy of parody movies?

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    The Tax Man, Yea-ah, I'm the Tax Man

    Actually, I'm done with mine, but am reprinting another vintage Girls on Film article due to anticipated light posting for the next few days. Too much to write, not enough time.

    Enjoy, and good luck with your W-2's and whatnot!

    Nice Work If You Can Get It

    It's lurking over there. On your desk. Your unfinished 1040 long form. Aaaiieee! Don't be scared. Procrastinate. In honor of tax season, here are two romantic comedies set in the workplace to keep you from itemizing your deductions for at least a few more hours.

    1957's DESK SET features the classic pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Kate is Bunny Watson, head of the Federal Broadcasting Company's Reference Department. Staffed by extremely smart chicks, her office regularly fields inquiries on everything from baseball stats to "Song of Hiawatha," which Bunny can recite cold.

    Peg (Joan Blondell) is the resident zaftig wisecracker, constantly tweaking Bunny about her sometime beau Mike Cutler (Gig Young). Network exec Mike takes Bunny very much for granted, but she's content for now. More or less.

    Into this happily buzzing hive comes Tracy's Richard Sumner, an avuncular nutcase who turns out to be an efficiency expert. Uh oh. Armed with a degree from MIT and a tape measure, Richard gets underfoot as he makes plans to bring an "electronic brain" onto Bunny's home turf. Suddenly everyone's thinking pink slips. Despite this, our heroes begin to warm to each other. Richard, with his easygoing style and appreciation for intelligence and wit, has much more in common with Bunny than executron Mike.

    The computer, when it arrives, is a massive blooping, blinking contraption more on the order of the bridge of the Enterprise than today's beige boxes. But not to fear, the reference staff neatly cleans its clock, as the vaunted machine confuses Corfu and "curfew," spewing punch cards hither and yon. It's a little surprising that IBM worked so closely with this film: not only do computers (temporarily) fulfill everyone's fears of being replaced, but they screw up royally at their first chance out of the gate. Just like Windows!

    Another classic film couple star in 1940's HIS GIRL FRIDAY, Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. You'll have to search a long time before you find a script this funny and sharp, delivered with such crackerjack timing.

    Russell is Hildy Johnson, ace reporter. News flash for her editor and ex-husband Walter Burns (Grant): she's quitting to get married. Tomorrow. The groom-to-be is affable but dull insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), who wants to whisk Hildy away, far from press rooms and late editions. Worse, Hildy apparently wants to be so whisked.

    Walter is none too happy to see her go: he hired a skywriter to announce, outside the divorce court, "HILDY -- DON'T BE HASTY -- REMEMBER MY DIMPLE." Grant has the charm cranked up to 11 as he keeps Hildy from getting on that train, mostly by repeatedly getting Bruce arrested. Walter is not going quietly into that Hildy-less night.

    As great a role as Walter Burns is, Russell's got the real showcase part. Hildy is a reporter nonpareil, equally able to give the "woman's touch" (cough, whatever) to a story and physically tackle a fleeing interview subject. She's no fool, either, seeing through Walter's attempts to bollix her impending marriage. The one thing she doesn't see coming is how much she loves her work, and that she's incapable of giving it up. A breaking story about an impending execution puts her and Walter to the test, as they both find out what -- and who -- is most important to them.

    The script goes beyond one-liners to deal with politics and corruption, and doesn't make any apologies for egregiously biased newspapers, or for the hyena-like behavior of cynical, misfortune-hungry reporters. HIS GIRL FRIDAY also sneaks in some in-jokes, such as Walter sending someone after Bruce, saying he looks like "that guy in the movies, Ralph Bellamy."

    Why don't films like this get written or made anymore? For that matter, I don't know of two contemporary actors who could handle such material as well as Grant and Russell. They don't call those the golden days of Hollywood for nothing.

    Now back to your Schedule ZX-1002 and Form 2p.4.L. The sooner you finish, the sooner you get your refund, the sooner you can blow it all on movie rentals. I know I will.