Ah, there are no better motivations than anger or a deadline and, in the case of this new pilot, I can draw on both. A little over halfway done and it’s coming along swimmingly. Hoping to have it done soon so that I can get some feedback, do a rewrite, and then go out with it in the next couple of months. As much as I enjoyed my time in Toronto, being back home these couple of days made me realize how truly awesome it would be to set up a show here.
So, in yesterday’s blog entry, I uploaded some pics from the Stargate archives. I’ve been going through a lot of these old files and am amazed by the brilliant work of James Robbins who, prior to taking over as Production Designer on Stargate: Atlantis, spent many years in the art department conceiving, creating, and designing some of the franchise’s most memorable visuals. Like for instance…
The wraith pod from the Atlantis pilot. Or…
The wraith mothership. Or…
The headpieces for the wraith warriors.
Just incredible stuff. You can check out more of James Robbins’ over at his website:
Speaking of art, on one of our last days in Toronto, Akemi and I had dinner with actress Ellen Wong (Dark Matter’s Misaki Han) and her husband Adam. It was Ellen’s birthday and, to commemorate the special day, we gifted her this awesome framed painting by a budding local artist:
Speaking of the new commander of the royal guard of Ishida, check her out…in uniform:
And, of course, you remember her ride…
So, today I resume one of my favorite spotlight features of this blog: The Screenshot of the Day! Each screenshot will be selected at random and uploaded without context. Assume what you will!
“Each episode moves the story forward while simultaneously shedding more light on each character and generating still more questions. This formula ensures attention levels do not wane and keeps the viewer guessing. Dark Matter is part of SyFy Friday and is great television that should not be missed.”
“First up let me just say that I love everything about the cloning transporter system, it’s such a brilliant idea and one that is so wonderfully SciFi, just the concept of it is awesome enough so it’s brilliant to see it used to such an effect here. Also great was the strong focus on Six who for me is easily the most easy to connect with of the bunch which is largely down to him having the clearest and most compelling back story, at least so far.”
I was actually developing Dark Matter as far back as 2007. That year comes to mind because, in 2007, we were producing Stargate: Atlantis’s fourth season and I remember walking the corridors of the ship we constructed for episode #405, Travelers, and saying to Paul: “We’ve got to find a way to keep these sets. They’d be perfect for Dark Matter!” In retrospect, it was probably a good thing we didn’t hold on to those sets. The storage costs over seven years would have no doubt eclipsed the price tag of our spanking new sets.
The nice thing about waiting seven years for your show to get green lit is that it gives you plenty of time to develop the hell out of it. Characters, their journeys, seasonal and series arcs – you’d be surprised how much you can flesh out over the course of 84+ months.
With a more than fully fleshed out show on our hands, the plan was to roll right into Dark Matter if and when Stargate ever ended. I’d been preparing myself for Stargate’s eventual end since Stargate: SG-1’s fifth season, back in early 2000, so I’d grown inured to the dread of cancellation. As a result, when the end did come, and Stargate: Universe was cancelled in 2011, I was taken by surprise. I wasn’t ready!
This business is funny sometimes. Given the fact that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper had effectively established MGM’s t.v. division and made the studio TONS of money with Stargate, I imagined they be set. A studio deal. A couple of blind pilots. Offers to use their years of experience to help shepherd or run whatever other productions the studio had in the pipeline. No? A letter of reference? A hearty handshake? A “Thanks for multi millions?” scribbled on a post-it?
If they weren’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat for the guys that had earned them enough cash to purchase a tiny country (something modest with a lot of beachfront property), I figured my chances were…slimmer…
“I’m sorry. What department did you say you used to work in?”
“Uh, television. A t.v. show actually. We ran for seventeen seasons, produced over three hundred episodes and two movies? Stargate? STARGATE?!”
“Could you spell that?”
Even with a writing/producing background on one of the most successful franchises in television history, the chances of selling a pitch are slim. People love great ideas. They love great scripts. But, usually, not enough to buy them. Established properties on the other hand…well, that’s a different story. And that’s something I was well aware of from my days working development.
And so, rather than roll the dice on a pitch tour, I made a single call – to Keith Goldberg at Dark Horse Comics and presented him my idea for Dark Matter. He loved it and, in no time, we were in business with publisher Mike Richardson on a four-issue SF comic book series. That would eventually be collected into a trade paperback. Which would be used as a visual aid and sales document to help Prodigy Pictures President Jay Firestone sell the show.
So, much respect for Mike Richardson, Keith Goldberg, artist Garry Brown, colorist Ryan Hill, editor Patrick Thorpe and the rest of the gang at Dark Horse Comics (Kari Yadro, Aub Driver, Spencer Cushing et al.)
And much respect for Executive Producers Jay Firestone and Vanessa Piazza for getting the show to air.
And much respect for my terrific cast, crew, VFX, and post personnel helped me produce one hell of an awesome SF series. And a ship-based SF series no less!
Well, I’m exhausted. Although I only wrote seven pages today, I also ended up rewriting another twenty. By the time the dust settled on my laptop this evening, I’d hit the 50 page mark. All I have to do now is finish off this conversation, completing Act V, then write the tag which will include not one, not two, but THREE surprises. So when the series finally airs, make sure to wait for those final credits – otherwise, you’ll miss something VERY important. And then you’ll definitely feel like odd person out at the water cooler Monday morning.
Anyway, I hope to get my writing producing partner, Paul, a first draft by Friday so that I can take a break…from episode #2 by starting the script for 3 episode #4.
We’ve also started talking about potential first season directors – and who will helm our big two-part opener. Quite a few incredibly talented candidates – some of whom you are no doubt familiar with…
My favorite part of this article: “…people who consumed more than a quarter of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die than those who restricted their intake to less than 10 percent of total calories, regardless of age, sex, level of activity and body-mass index.”
To which I reply: “Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests that people who were born face a whopping 100% mortality rate (!) irrespective of age, sex, level of activity and body-mass index.”
It NEVER gets any easier. Inevitably, the jubilation of convening with your fellow writers and hashing out a terrific story is extinguished by the prospect of having to actually write the damn script. You sit down, type FADE IN and then…What? Oh, you know what the scene is going to be (You just broke it the other week) and you can imagine the great version (Not the actual words, mind you, but the reactions of people who read it or watch the finished product. Best Scene Ever!), but actually realizing it to its fullest potential…now that’s where things get sticky.
I once worked with a writer who would force out a first pass, no matter how half-assed, just to get something down before returning to it for countless rewrites, revisions that – in theory – would develop and improve on what he’d written. Sure. And I once worked with another writer who’d always tell me: “Shit don’t take a good buff.” In other words, you can polish that half-assed pass all you want but, in the end, all you’ll end up with is a polished half-assed pass. Which is why, when I sit down to write a script, those first few lines have to be tight. I’ll work through a variety of false starts – a dozen, often more – before finding the right opening exchange, then develop the scene from that promising beginning. I’ll pace (or drive or shower or eat or feign interest in the conversations going on around me) and run the scene in my head, over and over, building the beats, the dialogue, the set-ups, the pay-offs until, satisfied, I’ll finally sit down and actually, physically, start writing. And, once I have it all down, I’ll re-read and reconsider and revise and rewrite and, once I’m satisfied, I’ll move on to the next scene and repeat the process. Then, the next morning, I’ll start from the top: re-reading, reconsidering, revising and rewriting – all the while reflecting, with a certain wistfulness, on how nice it had been to sit in company and create something.
So, today I completed the Tease of episode #2 and I’m at the point where I’ve gone over it so many times I can almost recite it by heart. I pushed ahead and wrote the first two scenes of Act I, hitting and surpassing my “5 pages a day” target. It’s interesting how the characters seem to take on a life of their own on the page. It’s early and, as much as I struggle to maintain quality equality, I already do have my favorites. I think the key, as I progress through this first draft, is to find those unique instances of humor in each of the crew members because humor, I’ve always felt, goes such a long way toward humanizing characters, making them a little vulnerable and, thus, so much easier for the viewers at home to connect with them. I think back to my time on Stargate and characters like Jack O’Neill, Vala Mal Doran, Rodney McKay, Eli Wallace – even Teal’c, Ronon Dex, General Hank Landry, Todd the Wraith, and Richard Woolsey. All funny in their own distinct way. It’s just a matter of finding, and drawing out, those distinct instances in each.
What do you think? What humorous instances endeared you to a particular Stargate character?
Another day, another story. This episode, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, was envisioned as a tough one that would take a couple of days to break. But, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, we ended up breaking it over the course of a single day. And that leaves us with one final story remaining: episode 13, the big season finale. As we were heading out to our cars this afternoon, one writer remarked that this one probably WOULD take us a couple of days due to its complex plot. Maybe. But, then again, maybe not. I have the tease, tag, all five act breaks, and the major moves in my head. In fact, I’ve had them in my head for over a year now. After writing the pilot, THIS was the episode my mind automatically went to whenever I imagined getting the green light on the series. The big closer, the Holy Sh*t! season finale that will trigger the colossal fan forum meltdown after its eventual airing. As my buddy would say: “It’s gonna be bananas!”
Alas, as you may have noticed, there was no official announcement at Comic Con. Apparently, they’re still crossing the last t’s, dotting the final i’s, and executing the finishing squiggly flourishes that accompany most official-looking signatures. So…soon. Soon.
In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead. I’d like to see a revised pilot and first drafts of episodes #2, 3, and 4 by end of August, first drafts of episodes #5, 6, and 7 by end of September, and first drafts of #8, 9, and 10 by the time I touch down in Toronto in early November. We’ve already generated a list of potential directors while, internally, we’ve started talking about casting. We’ve got quite a few colorful roles to cast and finding the right people isn’t going to be easy – but we do have a few familiar faces we’d like to bring in for an audition. Or two. Ultimately, we’ll be looking for actors who are not only good, but good to work with. And we know a few. 🙂
Damn, I’m going to miss going into the office to spin stories. I’d like to say it’s been hard and rewarding work but, the truth is, it’s simply been a hell of a lot of fun.
The thing I miss most about my days on Stargate is the writers’ room: the camaraderie, the laughs, the heated discussions and, every so often, the occasional creative accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong. It was hard, sometimes frustrating work but, when all was said and done, they were productive sessions that generated some great television. And fun times. We were lucky. A successful writers’ room has as much to do with talent as it does personality. Being good at what you do is important, but so is getting along with others. And, in the case of Stargate, we were fortunate in that respect. We didn’t always agree, but we got along and, in the end, I like to think it showed in the shows we produced – while I was there, some 340 hours of television.
BUT while the writers’ room can offer exhilarating highs, it can also mete out crushing lows. In the case of the former, take last week’s creative output for example. We ended up breaking an episode a day, a blistering pace that is not only impressive but almost unheard of in most rooms. On the flip side, you need look no further than today’s disappointing gathering that wasn’t just unproductive but actually counter-productive in that the basic story we agreed had merit last night suddenly evaporated over the course of the morning, leaving us with NO story heading into the weekend.
Yep, it can be damn frustrating, but it DOES happen. And the reasons why it happens are the following:
1. The story is deemed too similar to something that has come before.
This is a tough one because, if you look harder enough, anything can be deemed similar to something that has come before – especially when you’re talking about science fiction. The Purgewas an episode of the original Star Trek series, but that didn’t keep it from making $64 million. Elysiumwas another movie with similarities to an old Star Trekepisode. It made $93 million. Hell, South Park even did in an episode called “Simpsons Already Did It!” in which we are reminded that, just like science fiction, the world animation is fraught with the dangers of unintended imitation.
Closer to home, one of our very first episodes of Stargate: SG-1, “Window of Opportunity”, was unabashedly inspired by the movie Groundhog Day, but that didn’t stop us from producing what turned out to be one of the franchise’s most beloved episodes. And, in the end, the admitted similarities to Groundhog Day, while enormously entertaining, were less important than how OUR characters responded to them.
So, yes, stories involving time loops and bleak alternate realities and emotional robots have been done before. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be done again – so long as you can make them unique to the world and characters you have created.
2. Logic issues.
Even in the far-out world of science “fiction”, you must operate within established parameters. A theoretical FTL drive wouldn’t work that way. You can’t perform an EVA without a space suit. Difficult to argue against these.
3. Suspect character motivations.
This one’s a little tricky because it often comes down to a matter of opinion. “I don’t believe this character would do that.” can be neatly countered with: “Well, I do.” Sure, there are instances where certain actions would be completely out of character – but in these instances, you’re presumably dealing with an idea from a writer who doesn’t know the show. For the most part, character motivations come down to proper set up. Would mercenary Character X risk his life for the robot? At first blush, probably not. But what if the robot just saved his life – AND holds the key to solving the shipboard mystery that could pay off handsomely? Then, maybe he just might.
Yes, it happens. Sometimes, someone just doesn’t like the story or is grouchy and in a combative mood – in which case they’ll attempt to argue #1-3.
Two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with were Brad Wright and Robert Cooper who had two very different approaches in the room. Brad always excelled at pinpointing the heart of the story and finding a way to make it work. To him, the bells and whistles were less important than the emotional crux of the narrative (ie. how it affected our characters on a personal level). Once he could identify that, he would work tirelessly to build a great episode. Robert, on the other hand, was a straight shooter who never shied away from telling you what he felt wasn’t working – BUT, invariably, ALWAYS offered alternative solutions. No one could spin ideas like Rob.
All this to say I miss those guys and could have really used their expertise today.
No story brainstorming for me this weekend. I’m taking a break to revise the pilot and put together overviews of our first six episodes covering synopses and production requirements (sets, locations, significant props, and visual effects) for each. It’s all preliminary but it’s designed to ensure we’re all on the same page moving forward. And, hopefully, steers them in the proper creative direction as we head into prep. After all, we’ve got a spaceship to build!
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. Especially in the film & television industry. Particularly when legal departments get involved. Such is the case with this project that was humming along quite nicely until…. I was contacted, we had our initial discussions, I pitched out what Brad W. used to term “a Grinchy idea”, everyone loved it, everyone got excited, work commenced and then…lawyers got involved. It’s really a shame. While, realistically, this project wouldn’t have contributed much in the way of my career, it would have been a hell of a lot of fun to work on and, more importantly, something you all would have really enjoyed. Hopefully, this is just a final hurdle that has to be overcome but if it isn’t, and the projects gets deep-sixed by suits and skewed logic, I may have to release the hounds. And, ladies and gentlemen, you are the hounds!
That Project in Development:
I’ve never understood why development has to take so long. I suspect that having to do rewrites on outlines may be a contributing factor. A little frustrating, but the people we’re working with, on both the production and network side, are very smart and a lot of fun to deal with. I would simply prefer to have fun and deal with them on an actual first season. Anyway, I’ve done my pass on the outline, sent it over to Paul who will work on it tomorrow, and it’ll be off to the network before the weekend. And, by next week, we’ll finally have the go-ahead to go to script.
That SF Novel We Developed and Pitched:
We were hired to develop a series concept and pitch for a novel written by one of science fiction’s greatest authors. We took it out to some broadcasters in Toronto and, later this week, we’re meeting up with our production partners to discuss taking our dog and pony show south of the border. Pitching is always a long shot, but we’ve got a great take on the material and some incredibly supportive people backing us.
That SF Novel We’ve Been Asked to Consider Developing for Television:
While I was in Tokyo, my agent phoned up Paul, my writing partner, and informed him that a production company was looking to develop a television series based on a novel by one of SF’s most wildly imaginative authors. I read (actually, re-read) the book and talked it over with Paul. It’s a mind-bender – with a lot of potential. Our agent is setting up a Hi-how’re-you-doin?/Get-to-know-you/What’s-your-take-on-the-material? call for next week.
That SF Novel We Were Hired to Develop for Television:
Paul and I, along with our production partner, beat out a pretty solid series premise complete with major story and character arcs, twists and turns. Alas, in interim, the project has been temporarily shelved and we’ve asked to shift focus to…
That Action Feature:
Based on an idea by one of our energetic and compulsively creative production partners, we actually spent an afternoon beating out the broad strokes of the story while we were in Toronto a couple of months back. Once some questions get answered, Paul and I can actually sit down and put together an outline.
Our production partner did an incredible job putting all the pieces in place on this one. We were good to go. All we needed was the green light. We waited. And waited. And waited. And finally received word from one of our broadcaster partners. But it wasn’t “green light”. It was “pass”. Wait? What?! Apparently, it came down to two projects and, in the 11th hour, the decision was made to go with the other one. I was…what’s the opposite of “placidly pleased” to hear it. I was later informed that it had been very VERY CLOSE – which, believe it or not, actually makes me feel worse. Not to be deterred, our production partner is back on his horse in search of an alternate broadcast entity – or alternate formula that will see Dark Matterget made. I mean, come on! Who’s got a hankering for a ship-based SF series?
That Genre series:
When one door closes, another opens – or, sometimes, it’s the same door that’s left slightly ajar because you were quick enough to thrust your foot in the jamb. Such is the case with this opportunity. We simply need to agree on a suitable, modestly-budgeted genre series to go in with. And that has proven a bit of a challenge – not so much the agreement on the project itself but the agreement on a meeting in which to reach an agreement.
That Urban Fantasy series:
We completed various drafts of a series overview and pilot script until it met everyone’s satisfaction. And then…it seemed to fall into a black hole. No more notes. No word of a pass. Just radio silence. I imagine that, some day, it will eventually resurface: tomorrow, next year, in the far future when it is discovered by alien archeologists.
That Southern Gothicpilot:
I’m 17 pages into this one. I’ve got oodles of research material (provided by Savannah native and technical advisor JeffW – Get well soon, buddy!) and an intervening scene to write. My partner on this one just sent me her pass on the cafe scene. It’s great. I’ll tweak it, write the next scene, and then pitch things back to her – hopefully before week’s end. But with Thanksgiving (football) on the horizon, I’m not sure how likely that will be.
The Horror feature:
This one made the rounds but, alas, no takers.
The Other Horror feature:
I was pitched the idea for this one by a long-time friend and excellent writer who came up with the devilish premise. I loved the set-up but couldn’t quite get my head around how to attack it…until, the other week, in my addled, exhausted, food-poisoned state, the solution suddenly came to me. I wrote out my take, sent it his way, he loved it, and sent me some ideas of his own. Now, all we need is that crucial, cook, and wholly unexpected (tough to do) turn that will have it all fall into place. Since my partner on this one has his hands full with actual paid production work, looks like I’ll be taking the lead once we nailed down those final story elements. Can’t wait to get started.
And assorted others:
Opportunities in the field of comic books (going after the film & television rights to an establish series, launching an original series as a springboard to a t.v. series), other established SF, fantasy, and horror properties we’re considering for development with one of our production partners.
So, yes, on the one hand, very busy which should keep me out of trouble (ie. gang life, the competitive twerking circuit, etc.). On the other hand, I’m getting a might antsy working from home and if one of these projects doesn’t pop soon, I may just have to bite the bullet and consider staffing south of the border.
Well, look who it is! It’s my good buddy and former co-worker: uber-talented/super-successful actress Jennifer Finnigan. She’s in town shooting a movie (with my other pal, Cas) and dropped by the other night to say hi, eat some rotisserie chicken and, of course, check out the Dark Matter comic book (soon to be television?) series. Turns out she’s looking for an SF project and this could be the one!
I worked with Jen way back when we were both first getting started, on a teen sitcom called Student Bodies (Student Bodies (TV series) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). Once the show ended, she moved to Hollywood where she landed the part of Bridget Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful, playing the role for 3+ years and winning three consecutive Daytime Emmy Awards along the way. From there, it was on to Crossing Jordan were she recurred as pathologist Dr. Devan Maguire, then to her own series, Committed, and, eventually, on to CBS’s Close To Home where she headlined as deputy DA Annabeth Chase. She recently wrapped production on David E. Kelley’s Monday Mornings and, after finishing up this latest Lifetime movie (which will take her to Brazil and India), she’ll be producing her first feature alongside hubby, Jonathan Silverman – provided she finds the time between work, travel, and games night at her pal Nathan Fillion’s place.
Anyway, it was great catching up with her these last couple of days and here’s hoping we do get the opportunity to work together again sooner than later.
Meanwhile, Jen’s castmate on the Lifetime movie (and my house guest) Cas left today for a con appearance in Detroit. Detroit! Yeesh. You’d think he could come up with a better cover story than that. He’ll be gone until Monday and, in that time, he has asked me to read a pitch document and the first ten pages of a script he wrote for a personal project. Over lunch today, I made it clear to him that if he really wanted me to read his stuff – REALLY wanted me to read it – then, I certainly would…with the understanding that I would NOT be critiquing it as his good buddy Joe but as former Executive Producer/professional writer Joseph Mallozzi. It’s the same fair warning I give everyone who asks me to read something they’ve written. I don’t want to waste their time and, more importantly, MY time reading something simply for form’s sake. If you really want my opinion, I’ll give it to you – but be prepared for the worst. I would consider it disrespectful of me to pull my punches. The whole point of the exercise is to identify the flaws and weaknesses of a concept or script and maybe offer suggestions as to how they can be addressed. It is certainly NOT to offer blanket congratulations on a job well done.
Cas apparently understands this and has given me the go ahead. So I’ll start reading it tomorrow – AFTER I finally sit down to read my friend Trevor’s outline which has been sitting in my inbox far too long.
Again, I assume this sort of thing isn’t limited to show business. I’m certain you’ve all found yourself in situations where friends or family members have requested honest input on some thing or other. So how did you respond in situations where, quite clearly, tough love was required? Were you painfully honest or was discretion the better part of valor? Do tell.
Over the course of my 11+ years on the Stargate franchise, I heard my fair share of freelance pitches – some of them good, most of them fine but not quite what we were looking for, and a few of them truly horrible. In the first case, kudos to those writers who were able to step up, well into the franchise’s run, take into into account Stargate’s immense mythology, and come up with an engaging, original idea that hadn’t been done yet (by us or Star Trek). In the second case, thanks for trying and, while it didn’t work out, we fully appreciate that coming up with an original idea for this series is a daunting task. In the third case, what the hell were you thinking?
What follows are some of my favorite from the latter category. Worst. Pitches. Ever!
1. Tee-alc gets separated from the rest of sgi while on an off-world mission. When O’Neil, Daniel, and Carter step through the gate, they end up trapped in another dimension where they must try to avert a nuclear showdown between India and Pakistan.
* Dude, seriously. If you’re going to pitch for our show, do us the courtesy of at least watching an episode. sgi? Tee-alc? Another dimension? Indian and Pakistan?
2. SG-1 visits a barren world, seemingly devoid of life. While investigating the ruins of a long-dead civilization, the team is captured by a race of subterranean-dwelling humans obsessed with Earth’s pop culture. Their captors are a bizarre mix of cowboys, gangsters, and guys in Beatle wigs.
* This pitch might have worked for Star Trek. Fifty years ago. Maybe. But probably not.
3. The sequel to A Hundred Days.
* Great idea, but suggesting you want to do a sequel (with no tangible idea outside of the fact that you simply think it would be a great idea in the most general sense) to an episode you didn’t write in the first place isn’t going to land you that writing gig.
4. One by one, members of the Atlantis expedition begin to pop out of existence. Where do they disappear to? What is happening? No idea.
* It’s all about set-up and pay-offs. Anyone can come up with the intriguing mystery. Coming up with the solution is, as Martin Gero informed the prospective writer: “What we pay you for.”
5. Carter is kidnapped by a race of men who require her for breeding purposes.
* Curiously, we’d get a variation of the “Gangbang Carter” pitch every season or so.
6. Teal’c is captured and forced to take part in a blood sport arena combat…to the death!
* Ah, the good old arena episode. It never gets old. Apparently.
7. SG-1 are the victims of a heist. Their attempt to track down the powerful stolen artifact takes them to space stations, Star Wars-like alien cantinas, and a dangerous trek across a dessert planet, culminating in a confrontation with a powerful army.
* Yep, the budget for the entire season should just about cover the costs of this epic story. If this one was ever produced, the ensuing episodes would have had to be radio plays.
I’m sure that this sort of thing isn’t confined to film and television. I’m sure you’ve all been privy to your fair share of truly terrible ideas. So let’s hear ’em!
Someone, I don’t remember who, once likened the writing process to the work of a sculpter. In this view, the writer isn’t so much creating as attempting to free their vision imprisoned within. Somewhere in that hunk of stone, or deep inside the mind of the writer, exists the perfect version of what has been imagined. How close one gets to achieving that version is entirely dependent on the skill of said artist. In other words, there are no impossible ideas; simply a variation in the ability to execute them. A talented sculpter, for instance, will know where to chip away and how much to remove in order to liberate that trapped masterpiece. Similarly, a writer strives to attain that faultless script by finding innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems and, most importantly, by not settling. In other words, they don’t rely on coincidence or contrivance to fix narrative shortcomings. There is always a better way to tell that story.
In truth, no work is flawless. There is never enough time achieve that ideal. An artist, however, owes it to their audience to try to get as close as possible.
I bring this up because, today, I had a breakthrough on a pilot idea that had me stymied for weeks. It’s a challenging premise and there were times I wanted to give up but, instead, whenever I grew frustrated, I merely set the pilot aside for a while and redirected focus to other matters. And then, this afternoon, finally, that hitherto elusive piece of the puzzle snapped into place and a key part of the script took form. As I knew it would. Eventually. It’s just a matter of putting yourself in the proper frame of mind to tap the answer. It’s there, in your head, somewhere.
I can’t tell you how many times, while I was working on Stargate, I’d hit an impasse on a story at the outline stage. Rather than worry about it, I’d assure myself that, when the time came, the solution would present itself. And it always did. Surprisingly (or maybe not that surprisingly), when all was said and done, those latent ideas would prove the script’s most memorable moments.
And so I return to the pilot-in-progress, confident I can make it work. It’s a long way from being finished, an even longer way from being perfect, but it’s a small step in the right direction.
If there’s a single word of advice I would offer anyone thinking of becoming a writer for film and/or television, it would be: “Don’t”. Don’t do it. Spare yourself the aggravation. The endless waiting. The incessant disappointments. The interminable meetings that never seem to reach a consensus, even when it appears as though consensus has been reached. The nonsensical, often contradictory notes. The long days and even longer nights spent working on your script, be it on your laptop, when you’re driving, or while you’re lying in bed. Seriously. There are far more respectable and satisfying ways to make a living. Bee wrangler comes to mind.
Hey! Guess who Akemi and I had dinner with last night? THESE guys –
Yes! Our friend Carl Binder is back in town and so, last night, we got together for a terrific meal at Campagnolo Restaurant. Among the evening’s culinary highlights:
Today’s blog entry is dedicated to birthday boy Ivon Bartok!
My writing partner, Paul, came over for Day #2 of our spinning session for the new pilot script we’re working on. Next to starting a script and, perhaps, passing a kidney stone, there’s nothing more painful than outlining a story, especially in those first few days. Ideas are pitched. They’re shot down. The story is discussed in the vaguest of terms. Plenty of questions are asked; hardly any answers given. Frustration mounts. Breaks are taken. The conversations go off on unusual tangents. And, all the while, we sit, staring at the big white board. It looms before us, intimidating in its pristine perfection – unblemished, not a magic markered stroke to mar its clean surface. We could break the ice by jotting down a title but doing so would necessitate a task even more daunting than breaking the story: actually coming up with a title!
And so we sit. And think. And wait. As if the creativity will eventually get fed up with our procrastination and suddenly manifest itself in a bright, colorful burst of act breaks, suspenseful beats, and a brilliant end of episode solution to the supernatural manifestation.
Yes, writing is a painful business. Positively excruciating at the spinning, breaking, outline, script and rewrite stages. But incredibly satisfying when you complete work on a first draft. And, to be honest, that satisfaction only lasts as long as it takes you to type in FADE OUT and deliver the script. Savor it!
But today, we did manage some progress. Three solid acts, albethey peppered with TBD’s (a writerly term for “to be decided”, those annoying little speed bumps that slow down the process and inevitably get shuttled away for later consideration, usually sometime between lights out and REM sleep). What is our Holy Shit third act break? I’m sure Paul will come up with something.
Hey, this afternoon I dropped by my local comic book shop to pick up the latest issues of Iron Man, The Ultimates, The Punisher, and an intriguing new title, Rose & Thorn, and noticed THIS sitting amongst the new releases:
Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, writers on Stargate, from SG1 through to SGU, bring their latest science fiction epic to comics in Dark Matter. The six-person crew of a derelict spaceship awakens from stasis in the farthest reaches of space. Their memories wiped clean, they have no recollection of who they are or how they go on board. The only clue to their identities is a cargo bay full of weaponry and a destination-a remote mining colony that is about to become a war zone! With no idea whose side they are on, they face a deadly decision. Will these amnesiacs turn their backs on history, or will their pasts catch up with them?
Speaking of Dark Matter, our attempts to get it to the small screen progress. We have broadcaster interest but now require the money to do it properly. One of our partners has some meetings lined up at MIPCOM (MIPCOM – The world’s entertainment content market – MIPWorld) and, if they go well (and fingers crossed), we’ll have a solidly budgeted 13-episode first season of our twisty, turny, suspenseful, high-flying, humorous, character-driven, scifi action space opera.
Continuing our trip down Stargate Atlantis memory lane. Let’s reflect back on:
Who would win in a fight between Teal’c and Ronon? Well, if you ask Chris Judge (which I once did) he’d reply: “Ronon. Teal’c is still doing that wushu shit.” Still, we weren’t satisfied with that answer and so, Carl Binder put pen to paper finger to keypad and wrote this all-out actioner in which Ronon and Teal’c team up to battle a wraith incursion. And also throw down. And who wins? Why, it’s a draw, natch.
Early in show’s fourth season, we wanted to do a scene with Carter, back at Stargate Command, leaving behind the life she knew for a fresh adventure in the Pegasus Galaxy. We wanted to scene to be grounded in the world of SG-1 and felt that the best way to accomplish that would be for Sam to have a conversation with one of her SG-1 teammates. I approached Chris Judge about doing it but told him we wouldn’t be able to afford his episode rate for the single scene. Chris just shrugged in response and happily offered his services for a nominal fee. I thought that was a stand-up thing to do and this episode was a repayment for that kindness, an episode guest-starring Teal’c. And, yes, Chris got his full episode rate for this one.
Jason Momoa and Christopher Judge had a blast shooting the episode, especially the action sequences. And there were plenty. The episode also boasts some terrific guest stars like Bill Dowd, Dean Marshall and Ben Cotton who return to reprise familiar roles.
Today’s entry is dedicated to luvnjack. Good luck with the adoption caseworker tomorrow. Hope you land in a good home!
We handed in our second draft of the scifi miniseries the other day, paring it down from a robust 204 pages to a trim 194. We went through four different titles (including the cryptic Cogito and, my personal favorite, The Apocalypse Engine) before finally settling on the one they’re going with. For now anyway. The script is, of course, already in prep as it goes to camera in July and I believe our work on it is done. Can’t wait to see the finishing product and hearing where it ends up. In the meantime…
I’m prepping myself for the next pass on my horror script by immersing myself in the horror realm. I’ve got a stack of movies to screen that will, hopefully, put me in the right frame of mind. On deck: Wolf Creek, Vinyan, The Nameless, Them, The Devil’s Backbone, Frontieres, and Cold Prey. As much as possible, I’m focusing on foreign horror films. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’d love to hear ’em.
Paul and I will be switching gears to work on a pilot we’ve been hired to write. There’s already broadcaster interest in the fantasy premise that could be a lot of fun. We start spinning the creative next week.
Also next week, we’ll be heading into discussions with another party on Dark Matter, my comic book series (which I’ll be promoting at 4:00 p.m., July 14th at the Dark Horse Comics booth at Comic Con so swing on by and say hi!). The business plan being proposed is a lot more intriguing and, hopefully, I’ll have some good news on the DM front before summer’s end.
In addition to Dark Matter, we’re also shopping another genre (supernatural…ish) pilot that has generated some interest south of the border. Our agent is suggesting we make plans to head down to L.A. for a couple of days in late July and take some meetings on the pilot – in addition to some of the fabulous series ideas we have are going to come with between now and then. Maybe a series about loyal scifi fans campaigning to get their favorite cancelled SF series back on the air. Can their dogged and determined efforts succeed in convincing the obstinate studio to resurrect the show? What do you think?
Speaking of fabulous series ideas, I got together with some of the old Stargate gang today for a creative discussion on a show we’re developing. Check out the action: