WIP Update: Webisode, spec script see progress; NaNoWriMo on tap

by G. Robert Frazier

It’s Saturday, and it’s late, but I just realized I did not post an update on my works in progress Wednesday. It’s an idea borrowed (nay, stolen) from another blogger. The purpose being to help hold myself accountable for how I spend my time and as inspiration to actually get something written.

The good news is I did actually get some writing done. Not as much as I would like, mind you, but progress nonetheless. For starters, I churned out a one-page intro to a web series I’m writing. The intro piece, or title sequence, will precede all of the webisodes. I followed that up by writing a seven-page first draft script for the first episode. I can’t tell you what the webisode will be about at this point, other than to say that it will be fun. I can also probably share the title of the first webisode: “Pizza and the Pomeranian.”

It is a first draft at this point. Might be a bit too long for a webisode at seven pages, or roughly seven minutes if one page equals one minute of screen time. So there may be some trimming in order before all is said and done. But it is a start. As the webisodes will all be fairly short, I hope to churn out a couple more of these this week.

Speaking of scripts, I plan to spend the day Sunday tweaking and making some minor revisions to the feature spec script I wrote with my brother. We’ve made a number of notes since finishing the initial draft of the script and now it’s time to incorporate those notes into the script as needed. I’ll then print the script out again in full to read more intently. Then, it will be back to the computer to make additional changes. Ah, the joys of rewriting!

I’ve also got another script in its infant stage. I have an idea and a broad outline, which I shared with my fellow writers at a recent Tennessee Screenwriters Association meeting. They noted a few holes and areas in which to concentrate to make it a more viable script. But perhaps most encouraging was our fearless leader’s words that my idea was timely and has loads of potential! This past week I did some additional research for it by, get this, watching and re-watching an episode of Nancy Grace. Now tell me that doesn’t pique your curiosity.

As if that’s not enough to keep me busy, I also had another idea brainstorm for a possible spec TV pilot/series. I did some preliminary online research. And, I reached out to someone I know from my previous journalism career. He supplied me with some initial information on my subject and expressed a willingness to talk further on the subject. He also gave me the name of another possible resource. So, I am extremely excited for this series as well.

Next month is another matter, as I plan to finish my novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. I’ve already vomited out the first 30,000 words or so and hope to finish the novel by the end of November. One thing I may do this week is reread and tweak the first couple of pages. I have an opportunity to present those pages to an agent/editor roundtable at the Killer Nashville writers conference next week, so I want to make them shine.

I also have my sights set on submitting items to a couple of short story contests in the next couple of weeks. But more on that another time.

Obviously I have a full plate. But after several weeks of stagnation and a lack of motivation, I couldn’t be happier. Stay tuned for more Adventures in Writing…

Writers: You don’t have to do this … but you probably should

It’s a simple enough line of dialogue: “You don’t have to do this.”

But it’s also one of the most common and, perhaps, overused lines of dialogue in today’s movies and TV shows as well. Listen for it, and you will hear it uttered more often than not.

The line exists for one reason only: It represents a decision point.

The main character has one last opportunity to consider his or her course of action. Do they take on the bad guy even though it puts them, their family, their career, etc., at risk? Do they choose the action even if it goes against every moral fiber of their being?

Of course, the character faced with the choice always does move ahead. If not, the movie or TV episode would fizzle on the spot. The goal would go unfulfilled, the viewer would leave unhappy.

It’s unfortunate, however, that so many screenplays telegraph this choice in such a way. It’s not very original in terms of writing, and it sounds cliched. But there it is, time and time again. It’s clearly an audible cue to the viewers that this is an important decision to be made. It is a moment that everything in the film has been building towards. In other words, the big payoff is at hand.

I’m not sure if this line of dialogue has its own chapter in the many how-to screenplay books out there, but it should. Your story, your screenplay, is nothing without it.

 

 

I watch too much TV

I watch too much TV. Who doesn’t in this new golden age of television?

As soon as one television series reaches its end, another takes its place. And I’m right there taking it in.

First and foremost, I watch for my enjoyment. There’s nothing like a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat, dying-to-see-what-happens-next episode like The Walking Dead, for instance.

As a writer, I also watch to see what other writers are writing. I study their techniques, from how they develop their characters to the structure of the show itself. I’m fascinated to see how television creators are continuing to push the envelope.

Unlike some networks, I’m also willing to give many shows a good tryout period. I’ll watch several episodes to see how the series is developing. Sometimes I should probably follow the lead of the networks and nix shows a bit sooner. Sometimes the networks don’t give me that option and yank a series I like out from under me, like A&E did with Those Who Kill.

I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to nix watching Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD this season, but I stuck with it and watched the entire season. A comic book lover, I felt a loyalty of sorts to the show and wanted it desperately to succeed. It did get better as the season progressed, thanks to the infusion of the Hydra storyline from the new Captain America movie. I’m actually looking forward to the season finale tonight.

With the sheer number of new shows on the air, I usually can find something to watch. And thanks to my DirecTV DVR, I’ve got whole seasons of other shows waiting in my que to be watched when time permits.

Following is a recap of the 2013-14 TV season as I viewed it (listed by day). You’ll note that I am very action/suspense-oriented. Comedies (with a couple of exceptions) and reality TV programs don’t make my cut.

Sundays:

The Walking Dead – Hands down this was the best show on television this year. The Governor’s raid on the prison complex was both exciting and integral to pushing the show on its new course over the second half of the year. Some people have complained the second-half episodes were too slow-paced and they didn’t like that only a few characters were being spotlighted. But I appreciated the character-rich stories and the renewed suspense of having to deal with zombies out in the open.

Mob City – This series was interesting but too short to do much for me. Looking forward to an expanded season next year.

Turn – I’ve only watched a couple of episodes so far and have several waiting to be watched on my DVR. It’s so-so so far, but I’m a bit of a history buff so I’m anxious to see more of this story unfold. It’s also refreshing to see a period piece instead of the same-old, same-old cop drama.

Crisis – I nixed this show after five episodes. It had an enticing premise, the kidnap of the president’s son and other kids from influential families, and what the parents would do to attain their safe release. But I found I didn’t really care for any of the characters, including the FBI agents. The series just seems flat to me.

Cosmos – I watched a few episodes of this real science series, mostly due to my brother’s infatuation with science and space. But when even he decided the show was boring, it got nixed from the playlist.

Mondays:

WWE Raw – My one guilty pleasure. The wrestling can get a little old at times, but it was fun watching Daniel Bryan capture the title this year. The Wyatt Family was also a cool addition to the locker room lineup.

Hostages – I watched this series all the way through, perhaps because I knew it was a finite series. That is, it was only supposed to last 13 episodes. It was interesting at the outset, but became muddled in the middle and the ending wasn’t as exciting as it should have been. I don’t like the way Toni Collette constantly shifts her eyes off screen and is always opening her mouth in shock. Her acting just seems a bit exaggerated and I think that killed my ability to care for her character.

Sleepy Hollow – This was a great surprise. I initially wasn’t even going to watch it because I felt like I already knew the story of Ichabod Crane. I’m glad I tuned in, however. The TV show took a number of unexpected twists and turns. I also liked the fact that it had a limited run of episodes. With fewer episodes, the writers have to make each episode really count. So, I’m a bit dismayed that it will get 18 episodes in season two. I hope it doesn’t kill the momentum the first season started.

Dallas – An old favorite. Without JR, I was afraid the show might start to founder. But, happily, I’m enjoying every underhanded moment of it. Just like the good old days.

Bates Motel – This season was a bit better than last, but still had ups and downs. It’s easily a binge-worthy show at just 10 episodes. But I still want to see more of Norman going bonkers. I don’t think the writers have really reached their peak on this series yet. This is one series that could benefit from more episodes, I think. Or at least two half-seasons of eight episodes each.

Intelligence – I watched the entire run of this series, and I enjoyed it for the most part. It wasn’t spectacular by any means, but I did like the characters. It was good to see John Billingsley (good old Dr. Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise) on TV again.

Those Who Kill – This A&E drama was undeservedly short-lived. I thought the two episodes that aired were incredibly moody and loved the character development. I was anxiously looking forward to more when it was yanked for poor ratings. I only just found out the rest of the series moved to Lifetime. I’m hoping I can find the episodes on demand or otherwise will watch them online.

The Following – I missed the first season and tried watching the second. But somehow I just couldn’t get into the characters or storyline. There was plenty of action and violence, to be sure, and it looks promising. But I think I need to watch it from the beginning to really enjoy it. I’ll either have to buy it on DVD or find it on Netflix.

The Black List – This is an intriguing show, but also has been quite frustrating at times. The action is top-notch, but I don’t like Megan Boone’s character (she seems too flaky and weak to be a lead) and, while I liked James Spader in Boston Legal, I can’t stand his tilted-bobblehead-lick-his-lips routine in this series. Does that bother anyone else?

Tuesdays:

Supernatural – Loved this show several seasons ago, but I’m woefully behind on my viewing. I’ve got more than two and a half seasons of episodes to catch up on. I’m actually surprised it’s still on the air after all this time.

The Tomorrow People – Gonged this series after one episode. I just have had enough of the whole people with strange new powers stuff.

Justified – Great dialogue in this series, but it’s so slow moving sometimes. I just want to scream at Raylan Givens sometimes and make him shoot somebody instead of talking everyone to death. I’m happy to hear that he’ll finally go after Boyd in the final season next year.

Fargo – Like the movie, this show is simply brilliant. Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) are a joy to watch. Aw geez!

American Horror Story – See my post elsewhere on this blogsite on this series.

Wednesdays:

Arrow – Like Supernatural, this one is just sitting in my DVR waiting to be watched. Guess I’ll have to catch up this summer, since The CW is going to add Flash to its lineup as well.

The Americans – For all the hype around this show, I don’t think it’s really living up to its potential. It can be extremely boring at times. But it’s intriguing at times, too. So I’m still watching.

Chicago PD – Best new cop show on TV. I was almost turned off by the violence in the pilot episode, but I’m glad I kept watching. This is a gritty, in your face cop team taking on the bad guys and I like it.

Thursdays:

The Big Bang Theory – Who doesn’t like these geeks?

Vikings – Another series waiting in the wings on my DVR.

Fridays:

Hawaii Five-O – I’ve decided this is the last season of this show I will watch. I probably should have nixed it a long time ago. This season has been bland, especially with Dano and Kono taking long absences. Chi McBride was a welcome addition to the series, though.

Dracula – Horror buff that I am, I actually liked this series. It was stylish and surprising. I thought Jonathan Rhys Meyers made a great Dracula. Sadly, it won’t be returning for a second season.

Hannibal – Another series in the DVR que to be watched when time permits.

Saturdays:

Doctor Who – Sad to see Matt Smith giving way to Peter Capaldi, but in the Doctor’s universe, change is good. The highlight of the season was the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.

Addendum:

Somewhere on this list I should also note Breaking Bad. I was a late-comer to this series and I’ve only managed to watch the last eight episodes of the season so far. I’ve got ‘em all on DVD, but just haven’t gotten around to them yet.

 

The burning question ‘Dead’ writers haven’t answered

Before the much-anticipated season finale of The Walking Dead airs this Sunday, I have to get one thing off my chest. It’s a story hole that the writers of the show have so far let slip by them.

In a season of episodes that have been as poignant as they have been shocking, it’s hard to knock the writers at all. But here goes…

What caused the outbreak of the walking dead?

Fans know that show newcomer Dr. Eugene Porter (played by Josh McDermitt) professes to know what caused the plague of zombies and, what’s more, how to stop it. And it’s the job of Abraham Ford (played by Michael Cudlitz) to get him to Washington, D.C., presumably to put his answers to work.

After enduring the prison episodes during the first half of this season, Ford and Porter’s arrival on the show was a welcome change of pace – and exciting. Finally, more than three seasons in, someone is asking “what’s going on” and “can we stop it?”

Sadly, however, the pair instead follows Glenn on his mission to find Maggie and the answer – or at least the quest to find answers – is put on the backburner. What’s more, neither Glenn nor his latest traveling companion, Tara, seem remotely interested in the answers. At no point do they take the bait and ask, “What caused this?”

Even after Glenn is reunited with Maggie and the others, the question remains not only unanswered, but unasked.

Maybe it’s the old journalist in me, but I’m dying to know the answer. If someone told me they know the answer, wouldn’t you at least ask? What else is there to talk about in this apocalyptic landscape anyway?

OK, maybe the conversation took place off screen. It’s not like the viewer is with these characters all the time. But still, it seems like an important enough conversation to have and one that should be held on screen.

Of course, it’s possible that Eugene may be full of it. Maybe he doesn’t have the answers. Maybe he’s just saying he does so that he can get the protection of Ford and the rest of the group. I haven’t read the comics – I don’t want them to spoil this wonderful TV show in any way – but someone should step up and ask. Here’s hoping that someone asks some tough questions in Sunday’s season finale, even if we have to wait ’til October to get the answers.

Addendum (post-season finale):

OK, no answers and no question asked in the season finale either. But who cares? Episode “A” was just too damn intense as it is. I’m happy to wait a few more months…I trust the writers will take us there. Season 4B my favorite season so far!

Writer’s block? Just pull out the old plague script

If there’s one sure thing you can count on with a new television series, it is a plague episode.

Admit it. You’ve seen this storyline over and over again, especially in genre-type TV shows. A mysterious super virus runs rampant, bringing down most of the main stars and threatening to do even more damage unless a miracle cure is found. And the clock is ticking.

The Star Trek family of TV series is notorious for them. They even have variations of the plague story. There is the actual alien virus storyline, and then there is the crew afflicted with growing old storyline. Or young.

Even The Walking Dead, which is already a show about a plague of zombies, had a plague storyline during the first part of this season. The flu-bug tore through the humans at the prison, adding an unseen enemy to the zombies. (As if dealing with zombies wasn’t enough!).

I’ve been catching up on viewing episodes of Intelligence on CBS and last night came across, you guessed it, a plague episode. Incredible.

Obviously, television writers know what works and what really scares us: the flu. Moreover, it’s a sense of being helpless in the face of death. It’s an oft-tested and proven storyline, so why try to come up with something more original?

Got writer’s block? Just pull out the plague story.

Gack! That kind of lazy writing just makes me sick.

The Walking Dead gets it right

Those familiar with my blog will recall a recent post in which I decried the writing job on American Horror Story: Coven. I’m pleased, on the other hand, to praise the writing for the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

Scribed by Dead creator Robert Kirkman, and based on two of the issues from the Dead comic series, this past Sunday’s episode, “After,” was riveting and deeply moving from the start.

As fans of the series know, the humans who had been occupying the prison are now all on the run following a devastating attack by the Governor in the midseason finale. Prior to Sunday’s episode, I had been growing a bit critical of the Dead because the cast had grown too large and the prison setting seemed, well, confining. But with everyone on the run, without the shelter of the prison walls, the show has taken a turn for the better.

“After” focuses heavily on Rick, his son Carl, and huntress Michonne. Both Carl and Michonne endure deeply emotional crises that require them to make life-changing decisions. In Carl’s case, he starts off as deeply angry at his father for failing to adequately protect the community at the prison. He believes he is capable of surviving on his own and would be better off without having to look after Rick. When he kills three walkers on his own, he declares: “I win.”

But when Rick falls into a coma from his injuries and reawakens, Carl mistakenly believes Rick has become a walker. In facing a decision to kill his own father, Carl finds he can’t do it, revealing that he still needs him in his life, that he’s not ready to take things on by himself. Fortunately, Rick isn’t quite “dead” yet. Rick realizes that Carl has grown up and declares him a man.

Michonne, meanwhile, goes on her own journey of self-discovery. After coming across Rick and Carl’s tracks in the mud, she opts not to pursue them and go her own separate way. Ever the loner, it took a couple of seasons for Michonne to feel at home as part of Rick’s group at the prison. But after losing everything, it seems Michonne isn’t willing to put her faith in anyone else again and can do better on her own. She thinks back to her earlier life in which she had a child, a boyfriend or husband and possibly brother, all of whom she lost to the dead plague.

With her life at a crossroads, Michonne joins a herd of walkers, literally, by disguising her presence among a pair of dead she has enslaved. All of them walk aimlessly toward some unknown destination, mindlessly numb to anything and everything. At this point, she notices a walker who looks very like her, which only serves to make her snap. In a fit of rage, she kills the entire herd of walkers. Finished, she backtracks to where she found Rick and Carl’s footprints and follows them to the house where the pair are hiding out. She, too, has discovered that she doesn’t want to be alone, that she does want to be with others.

If good writing is about the transformation of characters — and all the how-to books, conferences and webinars say it is — then “After” is the perfect sample script/episode that every writer should take to heart. Not only was it an emotionally moving episode for Carl and Michonne, it was a deep examination of their characters and what motivates them.

Next week’s episode, and subsequent episodes, are supposed to focus on some of the other survivors of the prison attack. If they prove to be as emotionally powerful as the past one, this will be a welcome change of pace for a series that had become overloaded with too many stock characters.

I’m hoping we also see more scary scenes like the pile of walkers attack on Carl. This is a show about zombies, after all. With some exceptions, the zombies have become all-too-easy to dispatch and, frankly, somewhat laughable. If worked into scripts like they were in “After,” the scare factor will be back big time.

American Horror Story is horribly written

I’m a huge horror fan and always have been. I love a good scare, I love monsters. Give me Godzilla, give me Frankenstein’s monster, give me Pinhead. I love it. And when it comes to the small screen (not so small in today’s homes at 55-plus inches), The Walking Dead rules.

So, you’d think I’d be crazy about American Horror Story: Coven as well.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. AHS is a welcome change of pace from the standard detective/crime of the week fare on tv, to be sure. It’s stylish and Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates are incredible actors. The starting sequence for Coven is downright spooky and one of the highlights of the show, even after having seen it each week. And the show itself is filled with wild, over-the-top bloodshed.

But, admit it, the show is a chore to watch — and not just because of the bloodshed.

It’s a chore because I just don’t care one bit for any of the characters. The whole coven of witches seems to exist for one reason only, to knock each other off in the most gruesome, violent way possible, only to have the character be reborn in the following episode. Hey, just about everyone has “died” on AHS once, and been brought back good as new in the eleven episodes shown so far. One of them supposedly is going to be the coven’s new supreme, but who cares. The show has proven so far that you can’t take any of the deaths seriously, nor any of the characters for that matter. Its violence is gruesome for the sake of being gruesome, nothing more.

Horror, if it is to be effective, needs to sneak up on you. It needs to be subtle, not so in your face. In AHS:C, there is less in the way of horror than there is in the horrific.

If you look back at episode one, there was a promising premise there. A young woman (Taissa Farmiga as Zoe Benson) discovers she has unusual powers and is enrolled in the coven to help her control her powers. The series should have followed through on that. The show should have stuck with Zoe and her journey, her discovery of her powers and how to use them in a world run by dollars and technology. The show should have let us experience her growth as a character as she decides how to best use her powers, whether they are for her own selfish reasons or for the good of the coven, or better yet, the good of mankind.

Instead, we get tangents. Stories about a voodoo queen, a tongue-less butler who collects dolls, and a witch with a fetish for Stevie Nicks. Oh, and then there’s Kathy Bates torturing people in the attic, losing her own head, then getting it back and being led around on a leash, and so on. Throw in an axe-wielding psychopath who is apparently a ghost of his former self and a bunch of witch-hunters that he dispatches with ease…

But, I digress…which is my point about this whole series. It chases every rabbit trail and doesn’t stay true to any of them. Lost in all of this is the story about Zoe. Remember her?

There are two episodes to go in the series at this writing. I’m doubtful at this point that the writers will be able to pull it all together into a cohesive whole. I’ll keep watching, but I’m past the point of caring. Maybe season four will get it right.

Addendum:

The riotously funny finale aired last week:

  • Zoe died while playing a game of transmutation tag. Of course, she came back in the end.
  • Fiona came back from her “death.”
  • Myrtle was burned at the stake again.
  • Kyle chokes Madison to death.
  • And new Supreme witch Delia announces the school will be open to new witches.

After 12 previous episodes of equally silly plotting, I couldn’t take any of the finale seriously and was actually laughing. Um, this was supposed to be a horror show, wasn’t it?